Three Maryland teenagers have been charged as adults in the brutal slaying of a 14-year-old girl who police said may have planned to go to authorities about a crime she and the suspects committed last month.
Josue Fuentes-Ponce, 16, of Bladensburg, Joel Escobar, 17, of Northeast Washington, D.C., and Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi, 14, of Lothian, are each charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ariana Funes-Diaz. Funes-Diaz’s body was found Wednesday in a creek in Riverdale, about eight miles northeast of Washington, D.C.
An autopsy conducted Thursday found that Funes-Diaz died of blunt force trauma, according to officials with the Prince George’s County Police Department.
Funes-Diaz was reported missing from Anne Arundel County on or around April 18, along with Hernandez. The two girls were considered “critical missing juveniles.”
Anne Arundel County authorities said the teens were seen in the Washington, D.C., after they were reported missing and were believed to be in D.C. or Prince George’s County.
Maj. Brian Reilly, commander of Prince George’s County’s Criminal Investigations Division, said Thursday during a news conference that the department’s gang unit got a tip Monday about a possible murder back in April in which the victim was dumped in a wooded area of Riverdale. Investigators from Prince George’s County, along with agents from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, searched the woods in the 6300 block of 64th Avenue.
“We ultimately found our murder victim there, in the creek,” Reilly said.
The investigation into the slaying indicated it was gang-related, the major said. Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar are both believed to be members of the MS-13 street gang.
“Interviews in this case revealed that our three suspects, along with our murder victim, were involved in a previous crime that occurred on April 17 in Washington, D.C.,” Reilly said.
The teens allegedly turned on Funes-Diaz out of fear she was going to go to police about the crime they had committed in D.C., Reilly said. He declined to go into detail of what that crime was.
The trio of suspects, along with a fourth, unidentified person, drove Funes-Diaz to an apartment complex in Riverdale and walked her to a wooded area behind the complex, where they attacked her with a machete and baseball bat.
Funes-Diaz died of her injuries, Reilly said.
Watch the Prince George’s County Police Department’s news conference below.
Investigators are working on identifying the fourth suspect in the teen’s slaying.
The major said Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar are members of MS-13’s “Sailors” clique, which operates mostly in Prince George’s County. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s, from which it quickly spread.
Today, it is an international crime organization with more than 30,000 members across the globe. More than 10,000 of those members are in the United States.
“They regularly conduct gang activities in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia,” the Justice Department said in a 2017 fact sheet about the gang. “MS-13 is one of the largest street gangs in the United States. Gang members actively recruit members, including juveniles, from communities with a large number of immigrants from El Salvador.”
An MS-13 member in Florida was shot and killed Thursday as he was being served with drug-related search warrants, according to NBC Miami. Michael Nieto, 32, was killed by authorities after he shot a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy in the face.
The deputy, who turned 29 on Thursday, was expected to survive, the news station said.
WUSA in Washington, D.C., reported that MS-13 has been tied to at least four other slayings in the metro area thus far in 2019. A badly mutilated body found beneath D.C.’s Chain Bridge earlier this month is believed to be that of Eberson Guerra Sanchez, a ninth-grader from Frederick, Maryland, who was reported missing by family members April 26.
The body was missing one hand and the other hand was barely attached, the news station reported. The area where it was found was marked by blue and white bags, the colors of MS-13.
Like Funes-Diaz, Sanchez was possibly attacked with a machete, WUSA said. The two slayings are not thought to be connected, Reilly said.
The official identification of Sanchez’s body is pending, WUSA reported.
The Washington Post reported that the violent gang was also involved in the March slaying of Jacson Pineda Chicas, 16, who was allegedly stabbed more than 100 times at a Prince George’s County home before being dumped near a river in Stafford, Virginia, and set on fire.
Chicas was reportedly slain during a meeting at the home of a gang leader, the Post said. Gang members were being disciplined at the meeting and a clique leader questioned Chicas’ loyalty to the group, court documents obtained by the newspaper alleged.
Six people were charged in connection with Chicas’ death.
Reilly said Thursday that the level of violence seen in the cases of Chicas, Sanchez and Funes-Diaz is not unusual for MS-13.
“Consistently, what we’ve seen when we deal with cases involving MS-13 is violence that’s disturbing," Reilly said at the news conference. “And they’re not afraid to use it on their own, to send a message in some cases.”
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