SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – President Donald Trump refers to them as monsters. The MS-13 gang has a presence all over our country.
It’s rare that an American reporter sits down with members of this gang to find out who they are and what they want.
MS-13 has deep roots in Central America and that’s where ‘Inside Your World’s’ Jonathan Elias traveled for this exclusive report.
To get to MS-13, we traveled into one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras. Not long ago, this place was the murder capital of the world.
As we drove into a gang-controlled territory, we were told to keep our windows rolled down so the gang members - and lookouts - could see who’s coming in.
We agreed to meet at an abandoned home, and we had been warned not to videotape anyone until the gang members could cover their faces.
The two MS-13 members we met were 18 and 20. They’ve been MS-13 members for more than three years, and both claimed they were sicarios. That's Spanish for hitman.
"We start by selling drugs, and after that, you become a hit man, this man told us. The boss shows a picture and says you need to do this and this and this, and we go do it."
They claim every killing is worth a thousand dollars. We asked if they ever felt remorse about their brutal tactics?
"No, in this life, there is no feeling," the gang member told us.
Hours before this meeting and across town, the Honduran Military showed off the results of a 2-year investigation. Ten gang members wanted for drug sales, extortion, and murder. We discovered that MS-13 members here operate under the strict control of their leaders.
MS-13 gangs exist across the United States, but these members said there's no option to head north unless a leader specifically directs it.
"We cannot go. We’re part of the gangs here. If you go without permission, you get killed, he said."
But some MS-13 gang members are known to have entered the U.S. illegally. And the Trump Administration’s calls for tighter border security are based in part on their ongoing concerns more could sneak in. In Honduras, the gang crackdown has helped cut murder rates in half here. In fact, per capita, Baltimore and St. Louis now have higher murder rates than San Pedro Sula, once the most violent city on earth.
Cesar Ruiz has worked in a homicide unit here in Honduras for nearly two decades. He has watched this country slowly begin to get a handle on the violence.
"As police, I can tell you it’s better," Cesar Ruiz told us.
The National Police have a state of the art lab to help solve murder cases. Despite that, Cesar Ruiz told us the gangs are growing.
"I compare them as the ants, he said. You can kill some ants but a few minutes later you will see a lot of ants coming from the bottom of the earth. It’s the same with them."
We asked the MS-13 members we met if they worried about ending up as a victim?
"We don’t have that mentality," the man said to us. "When you’re in the gangs you know that can happen. You don’t have to feel fear about that."
He said they want the world to know that the brutal version of MS-13 portrayed in the media is distorted.
"(MS-13 is) Your family, it’s your life," he said. "There’s no leaving it. And, we’ll put down all rivals because MS-13 is the strongest gang in the world."
The military police are aggressively hunting and tracking them. But for now, the people who live among them continue to live in fear as do some Americans worried about MS-13 already in the U.S.