Two Alexandria murders from relationships gone wrong were brought to a close on July 13. For the murder of her husband, Paula Thompson Marshall was sentenced to 14 years in prison with three years of post-release supervision. For his role in the murder of Jose Luis Perez Ferman, Reinaldo Mauricio Portillo Membreno was sentenced to 60 years in prison with 30 years suspended with good behavior and supervised probation for 20 years after release.
Paula Thompson Marshall claimed that she had accidentally killed her husband when the two were arguing over whether to euthanize their dog in October last year. He had been shot once in the torso, his body turned away in a defensive posture. She was convicted in April.
Membreno, who was 17 at the time, was pulled into a love triangle. Ferman had been flirting online with Leidi Granados Gutierrez, who was dating MS-13 gang member Alvaro Saenz Castro. Gutierrez lured Ferman to the park under the pretense of a romantic encounter. When Ferman arrived, Gutierrez was waiting there with Castro and Membreno. Castro began telling Ferman to stop seeing his girlfriend, but lost control and started to attack Ferman with his machete. Membreno joined him, the two of them hacking at least 21 times until Ferman was nearly decapitated. Gutierrez was sentenced to the Department of Juvenile Justice and given a suspended adult sentence for her role. Castro pled guilty to the murder but a sentencing date has not been selected.
STATE OF MS-13
The murder of Ferman was one of two homicides in 2015 connected to members of MS-13. In the other, several members of the gang hacked Eduardo David Chandias Almendarez to death with machetes behind the Cora Kelly School to keep him from testifying as a witness in a malicious wounding case related to the gang.
Since 2015’s two homicides, however, the gang seems to have been relatively quiet in Alexandria. The gang has been as active in surrounding localities, with several ongoing MS-13 related murder cases in Fairfax and Montgomery counties. But there have been no homicides related to MS-13 in Alexandria since that time.
According to Deputy Joseph Runquist, the Gang Unit coordinator for the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, MS-13 gang activity seems to be down from previous years in Alexandria.
“It comes in spurts,” Runquist said, “but the year is still young.”
As for the reason for a decrease in levels of activity, the deputy said that there is no clear answer, and that each case is precipitated by its own factors.
MS-13 stands for Mara Salvatrucha, and has roots in El Salvador. The gang’s more entrenched members have tattoos that signify their allegiance to the gang. Recently, members have steered away from tattoos and indicators such as Nike “Cortez” shoes. Many of the younger members don’t have tattoos, and recently they’ve started wearing Adidas shoes.
Recruitment can involve youths as young as elementary school age. Unaccompanied minors immigrating to the area are especially vulnerable.
Ingris Moran, lead organizer of Tenants and Workers United, seconds this sentiment about susceptible youths. Tenants and Workers United organizes and supports low income communities of color in their efforts to seek justice for pertinent issues they face.
Moran said that many of the younger arrivals that have immigrated from other countries are used to very different communities in their home countries. The complexities of education and city government in a bustling metropolitan area like Alexandria can be jarring for these youths. “They feel out of the loop,” she said.
Tenants and Workers United works with younger arrivals to help them understand mechanisms like City Council and the School Board. Youths also learn leadership development skills so that they feel comfortable getting involved with the community. During the school year the organization offers homework and English language help.
“Our goal for our youth is to integrate them into the community so that they can be successful wherever they go,” Moran said, “Many of them struggle a lot, but still manage to graduate high school and go to college.” In this way, Workers and Tenants United gives these vulnerable teens courage to pursue successful and worthwhile careers.
According to Moran, Tenants and Workers United has not seen much activity from MS-13 recently, and the community the organization serves has not voiced concern about the gang in recent years. “For the Arlandria community, nationwide immigration policy is more of a concern,” Moran said.