Montgomery Co.: Home to local Hit Squad gang, MS-13 homicides

Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond’s cellphone. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State’s Attorneys Office) (Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond’s cellphone. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State’s Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond’s cellphone. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State’s Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond’s cellphone. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State’s Attorneys Office)
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Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)
Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Zella Ziona, 21, behind the Lakeforest Mall, in Gaithersburg, on Oct. 15, 2015. This image was retrieved from LeBlond's cellphone. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says LeBlond is a member of the local gang, Hit Squad. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office)

ROCKVILLE, Md. — In Montgomery County, Maryland, — home to the National Institutes of Health, Marriott International and Lockheed Martin — gangs, including the international MS-13 and the locally-grown Hit Squad, are at fault for 18 homicides over the past two years, and prosecutors and police want them stopped.

“Does it trouble me that as of last Friday, 26 percent of the jail population in Montgomery County identified as a gang member? Yes, that troubles me,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy as he announced last Wednesday the first-degree murder conviction of Rico LeBlond, who McCarthy described as a verified member of Hit Squad.

“The gang that is responsible for more than any is MS-13, but Hit Squad, I believe, is responsible for the second highest total in terms of homicides,” said McCarthy. “Unlike MS-13 … Hit Squad is a local gang, born and raised in Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village.”

The county’s top prosecutor wants more resources to counter gang violence. He wants to pursue gangs using federal anti-racketeering laws to break up gang activities with the goal of averting deadly violence.

“We need to change our focus in how we investigate gang crimes, we can no longer wait till the body falls in the street,” McCarthy said. “I need new lawyers, I need new paralegals.

“We got 16-year-old kids ordering murders in Montgomery County. We got 15 and 16-year-old kids committing murders in Montgomery County, so I think we need to be more proactive,” McCarthy said.

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner agrees that the gang problem has grown.

“We have had an uptick in gang-related homicides,” Berliner said. “Our county has a very low crime rate, generally, but this is a disturbing piece, something all of us are concerned about and want to address.”

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger has also called on the County Council to boost resources against gangs.

McCarthy envisions teams of investigators in the police department and the State’s Attorney’s Office scrutinizing social media, where he says gangs are not shy about displaying tribute videos and other gang messages.

Berliner expects County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett to ask the county council in the months ahead to come up with as much as $2 million to confront the growing gang problem.

“I would imagine that if the county executive sends this over in August or early September, we will take it up right away and pass it,” Berliner said.

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