Only on 7: Purple Line worker held at gunpoint inside MS-13 'destroyer house'
MS-13 members held a Purple Line construction worker at gunpoint inside of a seemingly vacant building slated for demolition, police say.
The two-story single-family house, which has since been torn down, was located at 807 University Boulevard East in Silver Spring - roughly a quarter-mile south of Piney Branch Road. The Maryland Transit Authority purchased the property to make way for the 16-mile light rail system that will link downtown Bethesda with the New Carrollton Metro station.
According to Montgomery County Police, the Purple Line employee entered the abandoned structure around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, October 17. He was performing a pre-demolition inventory.
The worker surveyed the first and second floors before entering the attic. While in the attic, the worker heard the sound of footsteps and shouted "Hello?" The response... "There's somebody upstairs."
The worker walked to the stairwell where he encountered two Hispanic males, later identified as Jesus Ponce-Flores, 19, and David Lagunes-Bolanos, 18. Ponce-Flores, police explain, was wearing a black ski mask and holding onto a square-shaped handgun. Lagunes-Bolanos was reportedly unmasked with a "machete-style knife" secured within his right pant leg.
The worker immediately raised his hands and stated, "I'm just working here, man." Sensing no threat, Ponce-Flores tucked the gun in his waistband, walked back downstairs and exited the house with Lagunes-Bolanos in tow.
The frightened worker waited roughly 30 seconds, walked briskly to his work truck parked outside and called police.
Undercover officers setup a surveillance operation at the house. Around 12 p.m. - some four hours later - they ordered everyone out. Within minutes, four suspects sprinted from the garage, but were caught by cops, which had established a perimeter.
Investigators have since charged Ponce-Flores and Lagunes-Bolanos with accosting the Purple Line worker at gunpoint. Police have also charged Ricardo Arauz-Pineda, 25, and Jose Herrera, 18, with trespassing and burglarizing from the vacant building.
While clearing the structure, police determined the uninhabited house was being used by MS-13 as a crash pad/hideout – or what some members of law enforcement refer to as a "destroyer" house. The interior contained numerous graffiti-stained walls with the following words and images visible:
•"Santa Mu3rt3" (the “Saint of Death" with Es replaced with 3s out of respect for MS-13)
•"Locos" (a term used to identify MS-13 members) •"M" (stands for Mara, as in Mara Salvatrucha)
•"504" (area code for Honduras, a country with significant ties to MS-13) •"CL" (stands for Centrales Locos)
•Colorful images of marijuana plants, clown masks and Santa Muerte
In one bedroom, officers located a shrine to Santa Muerte with burning candles and a skeleton hanging from a ceiling fan. Some of the lit candles contained images of Santa Muerte. A skull Halloween mask with painted blood was also present.
A built-in bar with candles, graffiti and bottles of booze was kept in another portion of the vacant house.
Empty liquor bottles, soda bottles, bottles full of urine, marijuana blunts, cigarettes, CD cases and food was littered across the floor of the home.
"We just so saw way too much going on, and we had a suspicion it was MS-13 for a long time," said one man in a neighboring community who wished to remain anonymous. "It's actually very scary to know they were right next door to us, especially when we have little kids running around."
Immigration and Custom's Enforcement (ICE) tells ABC7 it has lodged immigration detainers against Ponce-Flores, Lagunes-Bolanos and Herrera. Information regarding Arauz-Pineda' immigration status was not immediately available.
According to court paperwork, Ponce-Flores had been living along Philadelphia Avenue in Takoma Park with his godmother. He was born in Honduras, has one child and is unemployed. Lagunes-Bolanos had been living along Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring with his brother. He was born in Mexico and works as a construction worker, earning around $15 an hour.
Ponce-Flores and Lagunes-Bolanos remain in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF) in Boyds while awaiting trial. Arauz-Pineda and Herrera posted their bonds last week. Court records show they were released from MCCF on December 22.
Montgomery County Police have not indicated just how prevalent MS-13 "destroyer" houses are in the Washington-area. A posted sign at the Purple Line construction site along University Boulevard East now reads: "CAUTION. Buddy system is required for entry."
"I don't even want to know what [he] went through. I would probably be scared for my life," the anonymous Silver Spring resident concluded.