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October 31, 2002

City seeks to calm MS-13 fears after gang rape

From: Somerville Journal, MA
Oct. 31, 2002

By Hillary Chabot / Journal Staff and Deborah Eisner
Thursday, October 31, 2002

As public outcry grows in response to the violent gang rape of two disabled girls in Foss Park, city officials scrambled to dissuade fears of a steady increase in MS-13 gang activity in East Somerville, yesterday.

Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay and Somerville Police Chief George McLean said the assault was an isolated incident, although the area where the rapes occurred has been a hot spot of gang-related activity. The three men who were arrested and charged with the rapes are MS-13 gang members, according to police.

The night of the rape, the teenage victims, one of whom has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, were at Dunkin' Donuts and Foss Park, two areas that have erupted in MS-13 violence during the past few months. According to reports, police knew the spot was a hotbed for gang violence and had pledged to monitor the area.

"We have been patrolling the area, but since those attacks the park has been quiet," said Somerville Police Lt. Frank Kelly. Somerville police, along with Cambridge and state police officers, have agreed to increase patrols in the park area, McLean said.

Jose Ortiz, 20, of Boston, Jesus Pleitez, 19, and Carlos Escobar, 18, both of Somerville, were arrested a few days after the assault. District Attorney Martha Coakley said that three additional suspects are being sought.

The two victims were at Dunkin' Donuts on the corner of Broadway and McGrath Highway the night of Thursday, Oct. 24, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Marian Ryan said, when they were confronted by a group of men, including the three suspects. To avoid the men, the 17-year-old girl, who uses the wheelchair, and the 14-year-old girl crossed the street to Foss Park. Both girls are deaf, according to District Attorney's office.

The group, consisting of the defendants and three other men, followed the teens and assaulted them there, allegedly taking the 17-year-old from her wheelchair and slamming her on to a bench, Ryan said. According to police reports, Somerville officers received a call at midnight reporting the rapes.

Ortiz was arrested Friday and Pleitez and Escobar were arrested Saturday.

Kelly Gay and McLean held a press conference yesterday to diffuse the panic about the growing gang violence in East Somerville. Both Kelly Gay and McLean said that although the defendants are MS-13 members, they are not sure that the attack was ordered by the gang or part of an initiation.

"We have been proactive all along in dealing with [the gangs]," Kelly Gay said.

MS-13 is a international Latino gang that started in El Salvador and has a growing foothold in the Northeast, according to police. MS-13 gang members have lived in Somerville for at least five or six years, police said, yet gang-related incidents have increased only during the past few years.

In September, there were two violent MS-13 related incidents in the area. On Sept. 7, a 14-year-old girl was shoved into a wall and spat on by a male MS-13 member outside of Dunkin' Donuts, police reports state. The 22-year-old member, whom authorities arrested, reportedly assaulted the girl because she was wearing red, the color of a rival gang. A few weeks later, at least two MS-13-related fights broke out on a Friday night at Foss Park.

"This section is a bad area. East Somerville is getting worse, gangs are all around here," said Bonnie Devino, a neighbor of one of the victims.

According to Kelly Gay, the city is working very hard to ensure that East Somerville is a safe place to be. "Our goal is to make East Somerville safe for every resident," Kelly Gay said.

Somerville is part of Community Based Justice, McLean said, an anti-gang task force through which the city shares information with surrounding communities. In addition, the Somerville Police have put together a book of members or suspected members of local gangs with names and photos. To date, there are 50 photos in the book.

According to McLean, it was thanks to the book that the victims were able to identify their attackers. Because the teens are both deaf, it would have been difficult putting together a description without the photos, McLean said.

"Thank God we did have [that book]. It would have been really difficult to identify these guys from the girls through sign language," McLean said.

Kelly Gay added that the state police could do more to keep the overgrown and dimly lit Foss Park safer for Somerville residents.

"We certainly could use a little extra help from the state police," Kelly Gay said. "We have to battle three, four times a year to get them to come down and clean up their park."

Kelly Gay announced that a community meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m., in East Somerville School to discuss recent gang activity in then neighborhood.

David McLaughlin contributed to this report. Material from the Boston Herald was used in this report.

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