Department of Defense Dependents Schools is trying to stop one of the most dangerous U.S. gangs — MS-13 — from gaining a foothold among students, according to a newsletter sent to its schools worldwide.

“While attending civilian schools in the U.S., future DoDEA students could be exposed to widespread gang activities, influence and violence,” the newsletter states. “Some may be recruited as members or associates into an MS-13 clique.”

MS-13 stands for Mara Salvatrucha — roughly translated, “Salvadoran Gang.” It is organized and highly violent. In some areas, gang members purposely mutilate individuals to create an atmosphere of fear, according to the newsletter.

“In schools and neighborhoods where (it is) active, MS-13 creates a climate of fear and increases the amount of violence and criminal behavior,” it states, adding that MS-13 gang members “refuse to back down from the police and have openly threatened both federal and local law enforcement.”

The newsletter said students recruited in civilian schools in the United States may try to establish a clique when transferred to a DODEA school.

Charles Steitz, a spokesman for DODDS-Pacific, said school officials across the region have seen no on-campus gang activity, but they’re aware of community concerns.

Earlier this year, however, Kadena Air Base on Okinawa established a joint service task force to investigate a brief rise of gang-related activity involving a small group of high school teens linked through, said Capt. Xavier Rivera, with Kadena’s 18th Security Forces.

The activity was not related to MS-13, Kadena spokesman Capt. Carlos Diaz said.

MS-13 has an estimated 6,000 members in the Washington, D.C., area and the northern Virginia suburbs. The gang is a violent force in 33 states including Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and New York. The average age of members is 15 to 17, but some are as young as 11, the newsletter states.

“The MS-13 colors are blue and white taken from the flag of El Salvador. Tell-tale graffiti and markings will typically include body tattoos containing the texts MS, MS-13, 13 or 18. Look for the consistent wearing of the same color combinations, i.e. blue and white which could also match friends’ clothing colors,” the newsletter states.

The newsletter quotes Tony Avendorf, a detective in Prince George’s County, Md., who said eliminating gangs once they take root is difficult.

“The key is to prevent gangs from starting,” the newsletter states. “Administrators and staff need to know the tell-tale signs of gang activities and be prepared to deal with this growing problem.”

Cindy Fisher contributed to this report.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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