ROCKVILLE, Md. — Police have made a third arrest in the death of a young landscape worker who was lured to a local park and stabbed 40 times by members of a gang.
Oscar Delgado Perez, 28, was arrested at a Rockville motel on Thursday on a murder charge for the June killing of 18-year-old Cristian Villagran-Morales at Gaithersburg’s Malcolm King Park.
Montgomery County police had been searching for Delgado Perez ever since. And when they finally found him Thursday, prosecutors said Delgado Perez told police, “If I hadn’t been drinking this morning, you wouldn’t have caught me.”
A Montgomery County judge ordered Delgado Perez held without bond on Friday, noting the seriousness of the first-degree murder charge; the fact that Delgado Perez had twice been deported to El Salvador and returned to the United States; and the assertion by prosecutors that at the time he was arrested Thursday morning, Delgado Perez was on his way to Texas, aware that police were looking for him.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that Delgado Perez was believed to be the leader of a group of people accused in the killing.
Two others, 19-year-old Vanesa Alvarado and 16-year-old Juan Gutierrez Vasquez, who was charged as an adult, have been arrested in connection with the killing. Police are still looking for a fourth suspect, 20-year-old Jose Coreas Ventura, who also goes by the name Josue Corea.
McCarthy said the fatal stabbing took place after Villagran-Morales met Alvarado. She texted him, offering to meet him in a park for sex. Instead, McCarthy said it was a plot.
“It was a trap — where there was a plan set in place by (Delgado Perez).”
McCarthy said Delgado Perez admitted to being a member of MS-13, a gang based in El Salvador with branches scattered throughout the region and the United States.
At a news conference in June, when Montgomery County police announced the search for Delgado Perez and Coreas Ventura, detectives said there was a growing pattern of MS-13 gang members targeting innocent victims, claiming they are rival gang members, as a way to enhance the gang’s reputation for ruthlessness.
Police have said that Villagran-Morales came to Maryland from New Jersey to find work as a landscaper. Police said that Villagran-Morales was not a gang member.
McCarthy was asked about the uptick in killings tied to gangs, and specifically MS-13. “We now know they’re trying to reassert their presence in the community and that is of grave concern,” he said.
In some cases, police say innocent victims are targeted in killings just so that the gangs can increase their influence. McCarthy says the violence “in many instances is being orchestrated right out of El Salvador.”
So should the Montgomery County police and prosecutors change their policy of not questioning witnesses or victims about their immigration status?
McCarthy says it’s a tough balance that police and his office try to strike: While they want to crack down on illegal activity, they also need the trust of the community in solving crimes. “Because quite candidly,” McCarthy said, “I think the members of that community are more often the victims of crimes than they are the perpetrators of crimes.”
But when people who are here illegally do commit crimes and are convicted of those crimes, McCarthy is adamant that they serve their sentences in the U.S. instead of being deported right away. “The sentence given by the court has to be served here domestically, because otherwise, they will just sneak back in,” he said. “Time and time again, that’s what’s happened: People have been deported and come back and committed violent crimes.”
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