As many as 10 members of the MS-13 street gang lured a man into a suburban Washington park, spoke with one another over walkie-talkies as he arrived, stabbed him more than 100 times, cut off his head, and buried him in a grave dug ahead of time deep in the woods, officials said.
One of the alleged attackers, Miguel "Timido" Angel Lopez-Abrego, 19, was arrested recently in North Carolina, and was held on no-bond status after his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Montgomery County, Md.
The gang members allegedly had planned the killing for two weeks, according to court documents.
The victim was stabbed, decapitated, dismembered, and "his heart had been excised from his chest and thrown into the grave," police said in court records. An autopsy ruled his death a homicide from "sharp force injuries," police said.
Detectives learned about the killing in early September from an informant, charging documents state, and about a specific site to search in Wheaton (Maryland) Regional Park, where they found the grave and remains. The victim's identity has yet to be confirmed, police said.
On the day of the killing, one gang member allegedly "waited near the edge of the wood line with a handheld, walkie-talkie radio to alert" other suspects when the victim arrived, according to court records.
Police wrote in court records that they think Lopez-Abrego was the first attacker to stab the victim in the chest with a 15-inch knife.
The charging documents do not cite a motive for the killing.
In late September, patrol officers stopped a vehicle in which Lopez-Abrego was the passenger, police officials said. At the time, Lopez-Abrego was interviewed by detectives and he denied he was involved in the death of the man at the park, the court records state.
Police said they tried to locate Lopez-Abrego after that interview but could not until he was found Nov. 4 in North Carolina with two other reported MS-13 gang members from the Washington area. How and where he was located in North Carolina is not detailed in the charging records.
Lopez-Abrego did not speak during the court appearance. Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement saying "Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego, a citizen and national of El Salvador, is illegally in the U.S. and currently in immigration proceedings. On Nov. 4, ICE lodged a detainer on Mr. Lopez-Abrego with the Avery County Sheriff's Department in North Carolina after his arrest by local authorities."
The victim killed in the Wheaton park was described by police as a Hispanic man possibly from Annapolis, Maryland. He was about 5-foot-2 and weighed about 126 pounds. He had short, dark brown hair and was missing a bottom tooth near the front of his mouth. Police said the missing tooth would have been obvious when he was speaking or smiling.
Authorities said they think the man was killed in the "early spring" of this year.
At the time of the killing, the victim was wearing a gray sweatshirt with "First United Methodist Church Laurel" written on the upper left side. A rosary or necklace was also found on his body, said police who had previously distributed photos of the victim's sweatshirt and muddied blue shorts in an effort to identify his remains.
The brutal murder at the Wheaton park is a part of a resurgence of killings in the county that police and prosecutors attribute to MS-13.
In one case, assailants armed with knives lured a 34-year-old to his already-dug grave. A 22-year-old also was taken to a wooded area and ordered to his knees before he was shot in the face. And in another case, an 18-year-old was ambushed near a stream and stabbed and stoned before he died under a bridge of the Capital Beltway.