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MS-13 Gang – La Mara Salvatrucha

ms13WorstOfWorstBloods, Crips, Folk, Vice Lords, Latin Kings are names that often cause alarm and fear among the gentle people of America.

Now a gang is emerging on the scene that causes members of these notorious gangs to fear or at least have second thoughts about venturing onto the wrong street. La Mara Salvatrucha is a well organized and very violent, very brutal gang born in El Salvador.  It is more commonly known as MS-13.



As with all “outlaw” gangs, MS 13 is involved in crimes: robbery, murder, drugs, rape, prostitution and so on. The biggest difference with gang is;

  • MS13GirlKilledtheir willingness—eagerness—to use overt violence to punctuate their activities,
  • their paramilitary type structure and order that comes from years of civil wars and insurgencies in Central America,
  • the concern that MS-13 could form an alliance with al-Qaida and help terrorists gain illegal entry into the United States *.

*Note: The FBI has investigated rumors of such links.

Their principle weapon is the machete, a large knife designed for crops but in the hands of the MS 13’s a weapon of terror.  MS 13 first arrived in the USA in California in the 1980’s.

That state continues to have the largest concentration of members. However, recently the gang has experienced a growth spurt making it the fastest growing gang in America both in numbers and territory.

Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland and other eastern states are now experiencing the impact of this gang.  Pennsylvania has mobilized a training team to spread the word across that state. As they say, “…not to frighten, but to raise awareness.”

ice_logoHomeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI have taken note of this gang have issued advisory memos to their personnel to be cautious.

The Border Patrol has been directly targeted by this gang because they slowed down the “people smuggling” along the US/Mexican border that is one of their primary money making ventures.  (ICE Map of gang arrests since Feb. 2005)

 What does this mean to schools?

ProsecutoraTextBlockOne expert on MS 13 has said that the scariest element of this gang is the young people, mostly Middle School age and up. They are attracted to this gang and join to fulfill a sense of belonging.

They are willing to go through a brutal beating as initiation, then they are eager to prove themselves by showing how brutal they can be during gang activities.

The next scariest group is the “wannabees” or those who are too young, maybe 8 years old, who are not ready for the gang but want to show that they are worthy. With the poor impulse control of youth and often a shallow well of values, these extremely young people do some extremely violent things to other people.

Is MS 13 a male only gang?

ms13tatoosNo. Girls join as well and often more vicious than the males. Girls occasionally go through the same beating initiation as the males but often they are “sexed in” which pretty descriptive of the actual event.

How do you recognize this gang? MS 13 is the short or street name for this group. It is also their principle tag, that is, what they use to mark territory or send threats. Their colors are blue and white taken from the flag of El Salvador. Most members tend to have elaborate body art or tattoos.

How do you recognize this gang?

MS 13 is the short or street name for this group. It is also their principle tag, that is, what they use to mark territory or send threats. Their colors are blue and white taken from the flag of El Salvador. Most members tend to have elaborate body art or tattoos.

How wide spread is this group?

ms13map2In 33 of the 50 states MS 13 is known to operate. They generally infiltrate the Hispanic community and prey upon its members until they consolidate and base for ms13map2spreading out. MS 13 is unique in that it is multinational. That is to say that its member travel from the USA back to and through various Central American countries. Sometimes by choice and sometimes through deportation.

What actions can schools take?

First and always, be aware.

It is common to take the path of “not seeing means it’s not there.” With the spreading of this gang and the unprecedented growth of its numbers, it is very likely in your school to some degree now.

The solutions are the same as with other gangs but should be made a matter of policy and training. Young people are drawn into this gang for a sense of belonging, the hope finding unconditional love (this is very distorted) and a desire for structure

(Street Gangs in School). Schools can provide these as preventive and redemption matters at all grade levels.


Every student needs to belong to the school, the class, the club, the team, etc. If the school does not provide a guided set of choices for
belonging, the students will find their own. These are usually negative.  See article on Connections 

Unconditional Love

Next, the school should insure that students feel loved without condition. There will always be transgressions and consequences should follow (they do within the gang) but being kicked out is not an option. “We don’t want your kind around here,” is the message received by some students every day. Most often the message comes from fellow students but more and more it comes from staff and administration. Both groups need training in how to hold standards without eliminating the person. See Bullying Stops when Respect Begins


And finally, students need structure. Structure is security at the base level. It allows one to always know what to expect and what is expected. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it must be experienced from a framework of structure to be truly enjoyed. See Lock Out Violence Everyday (L.O.V.E.) Campaign

If you are not sure if your school has a gang problem or if you are not sure your school has adequate training in gang prevention and intervention, contact Keys To Safer today for assistance from the Multi-disciplinary Team or take our MS-13Webinar (online training).




Keys To Safer Schools can provide the training to your school to establish programs such as:

  • To Learn How “Keys To Safer Schools” Can Help.
  • Learning what to look for – “Early Warning Signs”
  • What others say about Keys
  • If you have any comments or questions please Email us at