Gangs on Long Island: Former MS-13 member speaks about the lure to join the gang
Police say there are nearly 5,000 gang members and associates living on Long Island.
Schools are trying to stop recruitment efforts, but authorities say children as young as 13 continue to join.
News 12 Long Island's Eileen Lehpamer and photojournalist Brian Endres spoke exclusively with a former member of MS-13 about the lure to join the gang.
This is the first time that the former MS-13 gang member is telling his story. News 12 Long Island agreed to call him "Santos," hide his face and change his voice to protect his identity.
Santos, born and raised in Brentwood, says he comes from a good family.
"I was taught good Christian moral values, I didn't see any violence growing up. I was an honor roll student," he says.
But one day, when he was 16, he cut school to hang out at a party. At the time, he didn't realize that the people at the party were in a gang.
He says in the late 1990s he joined MS-13's Brentwood clique, known as B.L.S. The same clique that law enforcement sources say is involved in the murders of some - and possibly all - of the six victims recently found dead in Brentwood.
"The lure in the beginning is to 'raise your flag up,' that's what they say, if you're Salvadorian, no one is going to mess with you, no one is going to mess with your friends," says Santos.
And then, he was invited to attend one of the gang's regularly scheduled meetings. During the meetings, he says, they discuss money, funds, who needs to bail out, purchase of guns and bullets, and who stepped out of line and needs to be punished or held accountable.
"Once you're there, you immediately feel like if you don't join that day, they're going to turn on you," he says.
Three weeks into his new gang lifestyle, he says, he realized he made a mistake.
It wasn't until Santos wound up behind bars, convicted of gang assault, that he saw a way out of the gang.
"I started going to church and reading the Bible. At the time, I felt like whatever it takes, I'm not going back to this lifestyle, even if I have to die," he says.
Now out of prison, he says he's trying to live a better life but is filled with regret.
He tells teens in Brentwood who have gang members in their classrooms to stay on school grounds and not expose themselves.
No one has been arrested for the recent homicides, but Suffolk police say they have rounded up more than 50 MS-13 members in the last two months.