Read This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha Online

Authors: Samuel Logan

Tags: #Social Science, #Criminology, #Biography & Autobiography, #Criminals & Outlaws, #True Crime, #Organized Crime

This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha

BOOK: This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha
This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha

Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang

Samuel Logan

For any kid tempted to join a street gang


Chapter 1

Carrollton, Texas, is a town with an identity and a…

Chapter 2

Brenda Paz had only been in Texas a few months…

Chapter 3

Women interested in joining Veto’s gang had two options. In…

Chapter 4

Smile now, cry later. Brenda learned the saying as she…

Chapter 5

The city of Grand Prairie was unaccustomed to violent murder.

Chapter 6

Early in the afternoon, two days after Christmas, a local…

Chapter 7

Detective Rick Oseguera of the Major Crimes Unit had just…

Chapter 8

By the end of the first week of 2002, Oseguera…

Chapter 9

Oseguera’s murder investigation languished for another week until he got…

Chapter 10

Oseguera’s arrest warrant for Brenda Paz sat in police stations…

Chapter 11

Oseguera returned to the station, resigned to actively pursue Brenda…

Chapter 12

Like a good gangster, Brenda had remained tough and collected…

Chapter 13

Denis Rivera’s youthful, handsome features and smooth, light brown skin…

Chapter 14

Fairfax and Arlington counties, the city of Alexandria, and the…

Chapter 15

On a hazy summer day in mid-June, only days after…

Chapter 16

Rodriguez sat Denis in the interrogation room and left him…

Chapter 17

When Brenda left Texas, she knew she would probably never…

Chapter 18

In the span of minutes, Greg’s case went from boring…

Chapter 19

Brenda had seen so much death, pain, and suffering. Still,…

Chapter 20

Brenda’s continued separation from the gang reduced her craving for…

Chapter 21

Full of confidence, Brenda was happy about being the center…

Chapter 22

It was a hot day in mid-July, but Rick Rodriguez…

Chapter 23

Addicted to the freedom she’d experienced while living on the…

Chapter 24

It was late on a Sunday. Greg was tired, and…

Chapter 25

The more Brenda talked, the more her notoriety grew. There…

Chapter 26

The FBI is a law enforcement organization with a long…

Chapter 27

The most remarkable interview Brenda gave occurred days later in…

Chapter 28

The interview lasted for nearly two hours. Brenda was open…

Chapter 29

The embattled emancipation process continued until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,…

Chapter 30

When Greg transferred Brenda to FBI custody, he was no…

Chapter 31

Just under six months after she was arrested in Arlington,…

Chapter 32

Brenda Paz sat on a bench by the wall, chatting…

Chapter 33

Greg was wrong: Brenda was safe. Even if local MS…

Chapter 34

Brenda called her friends from the Centrales Locos Salvatrucha clique,…

Chapter 35

On one of his routine visits to Brenda’s apartment not…

Chapter 36

Alexander arrived at the safe house with his partner and…

Chapter 37

Days passed packed with tension, worry, and frustration. Then she…

Chapter 38

When Brenda called Greg from a pay phone outside a…

Chapter 39

Greg came to a screeching stop in front of the…

Chapter 40

Brenda’s “new future” would begin with orientation meetings, lectures, rules,…

Chapter 41

Over the following days and weeks, Brenda’s life completely changed.

Chapter 42

Greg heard from Brenda just as spring broke in northern…

Chapter 43

Brenda wasn’t back in Kansas long before the unthinkable happened.

Chapter 44

Hormones coursed through Brenda, out of control. Three months into…

Chapter 45

With little interaction in her immediate surroundings, Brenda thought through…

Chapter 46

Once the cops were on to Denis’s plans for escape,…

Chapter 47

As events unfolded in Virginia, Brenda remained in her own…

Chapter 48

In early June, Brenda called Greg. He was long overdue…

Chapter 49

The day Brenda left witness protection, Greg was in St. Petersburg,…

Chapter 50

News of Brenda’s decision to leave witness protection was delayed.

Chapter 51

Do you know the situation with Paz?” Filosofo asked.

Chapter 52

Sabrosa woke up the next morning to catch a glimpse…

Chapter 53

Brenda’s body was not discovered for three days. Like Javier…

Chapter 54

When Diablito, Pantera’s little brother, agreed to testify, the lead…


arrollton, Texas, is a town with an identity and a presence normally not felt in the United States. It is a place where people use the sidewalks despite the weather and America’s love for cars. There are always plenty of people waiting at the bus stops. Advertisements often read in Spanish, a constant reminder of the first language spoken by the people most likely to read them. Middle-aged men loiter around convenience stores, looking for work and avoiding the police.

Crime statistics are not high, but that’s because many people in Carrollton never called the police. They silently absorb the criminals rather than deal with the law and possibly draw too much attention to themselves.

On a cold night just before Christmas in 2001, at a cantina in Carrollton, Brenda Paz was shooting pool with her friends on an ancient, rundown pool table. They listened to old ranchero music while the other patrons, with a dark past and no care for the future, sat at the bar trying to ignore them. Brenda’s friends all had tattoos on their faces and necks, visible for all to see, despite the cold. Even though Brenda was underage, no one bothered her. No one was willing to cross her or her gang, who had a reputation for violence and spread fear everywhere they went.

Extortion was a daily activity for Brenda and her gang. They roamed the streets of Carrollton like a band of urban gypsies, looking for
cash. They made regular stops with the owners of check-cashing stores, bars, and pool halls, prostitution joints, used-car lots, and other small businesses. The owners knew that if they didn’t pay up, they would lose everything.

When Brenda leaned forward to take a shot, her shirtsleeve receded to reveal a large tattoo on the inside of her bicep. Another one decorated her elbow. Her boyfriend’s name adorned the topside of her right wrist, and three equidistant dots in the skin between her thumb and forefinger completed her most visible gang signs. She was not a murderer, but she had been in the gang long enough to earn her stripes.

She wasn’t very good at pool, but a sharp tongue and a quick wit kept her gangster friends at bay. Women in her gang rarely spoke back to the men, but Brenda could do so because she was the girlfriend of the group’s leader, the only man who reserved the right to beat her. No one else could touch her. Her boyfriend’s threat was always present.

The group played pool to pass the time. There would be a party later that night in the neighboring city of Grand Prairie, but no one was in a hurry. They had settled into a comfortable routine of shooting stick, drinking beer, and carelessly spending the money they regularly extorted from the hardworking men and women in their community.

Tonight, Brenda was impatient. She wanted to get going. She needed more action than this tired old cantina. Before the game was over, she walked to a public phone by the bar to call a new friend, a boy she had met only weeks earlier at a shopping mall. She wanted him to give her and her friend Flaca a ride to the party. The other guys could meet up with them later.

Options for friends outside Brenda’s gang were limited. She knew that hanging out even for a short time with another boy might invite problems, especially because her boyfriend had no patience for outsiders. But Brenda was sometimes rebellious and defied his wishes. She liked making new friends outside the gang. They allowed her a moment to soften a little and act like a girl. Her charisma could quickly disarm anyone, and Brenda made friends easily. Thumbing the dirty blue receiver connected to the cantina’s pay phone, Brenda filed through the numbers in her head, then settled on the cell phone of Javier Calzada.

He was a good-looking boy, the son of two Mexican immigrants. Brenda knew he was a proud young man who worked hard and enjoyed spending his money on nice things. He had told her all about his car the first time they’d met. It was a source of great pride. He had
installed an enviable sound system, neon ground effects, and head-turning rims. Once, a guy he knew had stolen his ground effects; Javier had found the guy and confronted him about it. Brenda thought that took guts. Javier occasionally got into fights, but they were nothing like what Brenda’s gang got involved in. He had seen some violence in his young life, but mostly he kept out of trouble.

Brenda admired him because he was respectful and well raised, not a common quality among the men and women in her circle. Many of them were the children of Latino immigrants who lived in the Carrollton area and were rough around the edges, or worse. Some were high school dropouts like Brenda. A few had never even made it that far.

Javier had met Brenda through a mutual friend at the local mall, and he had liked her immediately. Her smile lit up her face and immediately melted her hardened shell. That same smile had earned her the street name Smiley, but only her gangster friends called her that.

Javier thought Brenda was someone he wanted to get to know better. He had no idea she was in a street gang, let alone the gang leader’s girl. In the brief moment they had spent together, there had been no space for talk of street gangs and who was dating whom. There was only a shared moment for small talk and the possibility of something more the next time they met.

When Brenda reached Javier on the phone, he was cruising at Bachman Lake Park, a local teen hangout. Javier was often at Bachman Lake because he enjoyed driving his car and showing it off, especially the rims. He didn’t mind giving his friends a ride, and his parents were not strict. He had earned their trust, and they knew he never stayed out late.

Javier was happy to hear from Brenda again. It was his chance to get to know her better. When she asked for a ride, he was happy to oblige. As was his routine, he gave his mom a call to tell her he was going to give a friend a ride to Grand Prairie, then he would come straight home. When he arrived at the cantina, Brenda and her friend Flaca, a skinny young Latina, were waiting at the bar, apart from Brenda’s tattooed friends. They didn’t hang around, but walked quickly to Javier’s green Chevrolet Malibu. Flaca got into the backseat on the passenger side and Brenda hopped in up front.

As they set off, Brenda asked Javier if he could just make one stop on the way. She wanted to pick up her boyfriend, Veto. Javier’s heart sank when he realized Brenda had a boyfriend, but as he turned to her,
she gave him that smile again. He was unable to say no. Javier didn’t know anything about Veto, but the change in plans really wasn’t a big deal to him. They were already driving to Grand Prairie. What was another five minutes out of their way?

On the way to Veto’s apartment, Brenda talked freely with Javier, smiling and enjoying a rare moment away from her gang, where she was under constant pressure to be her “other self.” They finally arrived and parked in front of Veto’s apartment building. Brenda got out to get him. When Brenda returned to the car with Veto, Javier noticed she was a different person, reserved and quiet. Javier didn’t like that. As she got in the front seat, she barely looked at him. Veto walked around the back of the car to get into the seat behind Javier.

As they all loaded up and Javier started the car, the mood had swung from friendly to something more serious. Javier wondered what Brenda was doing with a guy that seemed to make her so unhappy. Flaca was muted and stared timidly at the floor. Brenda didn’t say a word. From behind Javier, Veto spoke up as soon as he was in the car with the door shut.

“Who you down with?” Veto asked loudly, shattering the awkward silence like a hammer hitting a glass table. Veto was in control now. As the leader of Brenda’s gang, he had to know if the stranger was in a rival gang or not.

“No one,” Javier told him, slightly unnerved by the rude confrontation.

Veto was considerably older than the other three in the car. He never backed away from a stare and challenged all strangers around him with the same edgy disposition. Those who knew Veto were well aware of what he could do. Javier didn’t know him, but he could sense that this guy wasn’t one to be messed with. He figured the faster he got them where they needed to go, the better. The night wasn’t going as he had planned, and he was more than ready to just drop them off and go home. So he told Veto the truth. Javier was not a member of any gang.

As the Malibu merged onto Interstate 30, one of the highways that connected Grand Prairie with Carrollton, Veto was also thinking. He decided Javier wasn’t telling the truth. Without a word to anyone in the car, Veto made another change to the night’s plans: he sent a text message to his gangster friends at the cantina.

When the headlights of a car behind Javier’s Malibu illuminated the interior, Veto took a quick look over his shoulder, mentally con
firming that his friends were now following them. The moment had arrived to announce the change of plans. Veto pulled a chrome-plated revolver from his waistband and firmly pressed the barrel against the back of Javier’s head.

Brenda’s and Flaca’s faces registered surprised, but Javier was stunned, still behind the wheel, as realization hit. He fought to control his fear, white-knuckling the steering wheel. His body tensed as he felt the cold metal press against the spot where the curve of the skull meets the top of the spinal cord. He became sensitive to every small movement of the pistol, every rustle in the car, as his body pumped full of adrenaline and his pulse began to pound. He fought to stay calm and make only the moves necessary to drive the car. He didn’t look to Brenda for help, and she continued staring away from him. As much as she liked Javier, Brenda was in no position to persuade Veto to lower the pistol. Veto was her boyfriend and the leader of her gang. If he chose to pull a gun on Javier, she wasn’t going to stop him.

Just as the two-car caravan crossed the line into Grand Prairie, Veto told Javier to take the next exit. Chaotic thoughts fought for space inside Javier’s head as Veto kept the pistol pressed against it. Veto was calm and didn’t act nervous or shout demands. He held Javier’s life at the tip of his trigger finger, yet acted like he was giving directions to an old friend.

At the bottom of the exit ramp, the Malibu turned right onto MacArthur Boulevard and quickly veered left onto an open gravel parking lot across from a cement pipe factory. No cars passed on MacArthur Boulevard. The Malibu’s headlights pierced through the slight drizzle to reveal an opening on the other side of the lot. Oh shit, Javier thought. It was a forgotten gravel access road that led to a pond that local fishermen visited on the weekends. Late at night on a Saturday in the cold rain, there would be no one at the end of that road.

Perfect, Veto thought.

He told Javier to drive toward the open gate, knowing the other car would follow. At the end of the access road, the Malibu’s tires rolled to a stop in wet grass, gravel, and mud. The second car parked behind the first. Brenda was thinking steps ahead of the moment. She had seen this before. Veto enjoyed stealing cars, and he especially liked to steal cars with nice rims. She was almost sure that later that night, they would all be partying and laughing about how Veto had scared Javier and left him in Grand Prairie with no car.

“Get out,” Veto told Javier before he opened his own door and, still pointing the gun at Javier, motioned for the others to join them. Javier was relieved to no longer have the gun pressed to the back of his head, but fear still gripped his chest. This was supposed to be a quick trip into Grand Prairie to take Brenda and her friend to a party. As he quickly assessed how isolated their location was, his mind was spinning with all the possible things that could happen to him. His brain was jumping from idea to idea, trying to come up with a flight plan. He quickly gave up any thoughts of passersby or cops. The only person who would be looking for him was his mom, who would soon begin to worry. Thinking about her didn’t help.

No more time for thinking, though, as Veto and his friends circled Javier and pushed him toward a clearing in the woods, just off the access road and closer to the pond. Cars passing on the nearby highway occasionally interrupted the sound of the rain hitting tree branches and leaves on the forest floor. The brush was not thick, and the leafless trees did little to protect the gangsters and their victim from the rain and cold. Their feet pressed into the soft earth. Javier could hear the numerous feet trampling behind him breaking twigs and squishing on the forest floor. He could smell the crispness of the air, his senses on full alert.

Brenda and Flaca watched from the car as Veto shoved the pistol in his waistband and looked at Javier, then looked at the men in his gang. It was a silent signal. Someone kicked Javier, forcing him to the ground. He immediately tried to defend himself, but kicks to his head, groin, stomach, and back forced him into a tight ball. He instinctively used his arms to protect his head. His legs were drawn up into his torso to protect his stomach and chest. All his nerves became electrified with pain as they continued to pummel him, an onslaught of fists and feet. He couldn’t feel the cold anymore, his brain seizing up, only able to focus on the overwhelming sense of pain. He fought to breathe. Brenda winced each time they kicked Javier in the head. She knew what that felt like. It would be over soon, she thought. Javier was tough. He could take it. The boys would soon grow tired of their fun and they would be off to the party.

By the time they finished beating Javier, Veto and the others were breathing hard. Their hot breath frosted in the night air as they stood over Javier, who lay on the ground in a mixture of mud, rotten leaves, and blood. He was still conscious, and when he was able to get past the
buzzing in his ears, he realized they had stopped beating him. He was able to find relief in that thought as nausea clawed at his stomach. His vision was spotty. At least they were finished and would leave him alone. It was a pause in time just wide enough to allow Javier to hope. But Veto was not finished.

He motioned to another gangster, who helped him grab Javier and bring him to his knees. Javier swayed with little control over his broken body. He could barely hold himself up. His head fell forward as shards of glass seemed to shoot through his chest with every breath, and he wanted to fall back to the ground. But Veto’s heavy grip with one hand on his shoulder kept him from falling over. The other hand, reaching for his gun, was quick. In one swift motion, Veto pulled the pistol from his waistband, pressed the short barrel against Javier’s left temple, and pulled the trigger.

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