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657: The Runaways

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

MS-13-- President Trump talks about them a lot. He's mentioned them 198 times since he became president according to one database of everything that he said publicly. Here he is in Nashville in May.

President Trump

This vicious gang has transformed the once peaceful, beautiful communities that I know so well. I know them all. Into blood stained killing fields. Savagely murdering, raping, and mutilating, their victims.

Ira Glass

The communities he knows well are on Long Island, near where he grew up in Queens. MS-13 is a particularly brutal gang. Originally formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants and refugees from Central America. Their weapons of choice tend to be machetes and baseball bats. MS-13 has been especially violent lately on Long Island. Last year the president spoke there at Suffolk County Community College. The audience was filled with law enforcement of various kinds-- immigration and customs officials, FBI agents, members of the local police, in their dress uniforms and white gloves.

And the president praised law enforcement for doing a great job eradicating MS-13-- arresting gang members, throwing them in jail, deporting them.

President Trump

And I want to just tell you all together, right now. And the reason I came, this is the most important sentence to me. On behalf of the American people, I want to say, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Ira Glass

At this speech, he shook hands with officers from the Suffolk County Police Department. Our story today is about that police department, and it documents the opposite. It documents them failing repeatedly in fighting MS-13. Particularly when the victims were Latino immigrant kids.

In the end, there were 18 murders in 16 months. Literally, teenagers were disappearing. And for a long time, the Suffolk County Police did very little to investigate. Made the same mistakes over and over. Missed clues, missed leads. Brushed aside distraught parents who were looking for their kids. Parents who had information that might have been helpful.

Investigative reporter Hannah Dreir from ProPublica, who spent the last year in Suffolk County reporting on MS-13 and the police there. And she's found pervasive problems in how the Suffolk County Police Department treats Latinos in general. Problems which dramatically slowed their response to this MS-13 murder spree. And let's just get right to it. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. Here's Hannah Dreir.

Act One: Act One

Hannah Dreir

The first teenager who was murdered was Miguel Garcia Moran. His family always teased his mom, Carlota, over how over protective she was. When Miguel was a toddler, back in Ecuador, she put chicken wire around their house to keep him from running down the street. When the family got green cards and moved to Suffolk County, she imposed a strict 10 PM curfew.

And when he wanted to play video games at a neighbor's house on a cold Friday afternoon, in February of 2016, Carlota drove him there, a few blocks away, even though he had just turned 15 and could have walked over. Carlota got home later that evening around 7:30 with some dinner for Miguel. She called out his name. When he didn't answer, she felt a jolt of alarm. She texted him to ask where he was. No response.

She texted him a third, a fourth, a fifth time. By midnight, Carlota's stomach was clenched with dread. Miguel never failed to let her know where he was. He never missed his curfew. He was even too afraid to go to sleepovers. By 2:00 AM, she couldn't wait any longer. She and her boyfriend, Abraham Chaparro, got in the car and started driving.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And I was like, where's Miguel. What happened to Miguel?

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He normally, he calls me, every 5, every 10 minutes.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

But during all those hours, they seemed just so long, and I didn't know whether I should scream, or cry. I just felt like I was losing the whole world at that moment.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

At that point, I was just saying, you know, it's like someone stole my son.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

After hours of searching the streets, Carlota finally went home. She sat down on her bed, fully clothed, and waited for the sun to come up, so she and Abraham could go to the police station. When they got there, two Suffolk County Police officers were sitting on an elevated platform, behind the counter, drinking coffee.

Carlota only speaks Spanish. But her boyfriend, Abraham, has lived in the US for years, and speaks some English. Abraham helped her give the officers the basics. The missing kid was Miguel Garcia Moran, 15 years old, tall, and big, 235 pounds, lived in the town of Brentwood, last seen at a friend's house the night before. A detective named Luis Perez was assigned to the case. He's a veteran detective in Brentwood, and one of the few officers on the force who speaks Spanish. The police told Carlota and Abraham that some officers were going to drive around their neighborhood to look for Miguel. But really, they shouldn't be too concerned.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And they said, look, it's Saturday. Your son's going to be back on Monday. He's probably just hanging out with friends. But I said, no, my son would never do that. He always comes home early. This isn't like him.

Hannah Dreir

At this point, Miguel had been missing for 24 hours, which in a missing persons case are the most crucial. There's a truism in law enforcement-- the first 24 hours are the only 24 hours. The New York City Police Department has a checklist of dozens of things officers have to do immediately if a minor goes missing. Things like, talking to the kids' friends, checking their social media accounts, and putting out a press release.

Nassau County, which borders Suffolk County on Long Island, has an even more extensive protocol, which includes alerting state officials within two hours of taking a report. The Suffolk County Police handbook, on the other hand, has no checklist for what to do if a minor goes missing. Nothing about talking to the kid's friends. Nothing about social media. Nothing about a press release. In the whole handbook, there are basically two paragraphs about what to do if a minor is reported missing. And they boil down to take a report, search the area where they live. That's it.

So on Sunday, two days after Miguel went missing, that's what the Suffolk County Police did. They searched the woods closest to Carlota's home. And they also talked to the neighbors. On Monday, three days after Miguel went missing, the police put out a press release and a photo of Miguel in a green shirt with a red bandanna around his head. It said, quote, "Detectives do not believe there is foul play involved in Moran's disappearance." And they listed Miguel as a runaway, which Carlota found extra upsetting.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I felt a lot of indignation because they would say that, oh, he just ran away from home. And I'd think, why would you say that?

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Why would you say that he ran away from home when I have proof? I have pictures of us, like, going to the store. Us going to different places, even from that day, where we went to the firefighters.

Hannah Dreir

The day Miguel disappeared, he and Carlota had gone to the firehouse to fill out an application. He wanted to join the volunteer firefighters. They spent the morning and afternoon together as they often did on weekends. Miguel liked to walk with his arms slung around his mother's shoulders. At 5' 10", he towered over her.

Miguel was a total mama's boy. For his 15th birthday, a few months earlier, his older sister helped him get Carlota's name tattooed on his arm. So to Carlota, the thought that Miguel had run away from home was insane. She tried to explain this to the police, but they still listed him as a runaway. And when they did that, the police were acting against guidelines from multiple agencies.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Department of Justice, law enforcement should quote, "Assume the child is at risk, until investigative facts contradict that assumption." When a kid is listed as a runaway instead of as a missing or endangered person, it basically stops an investigation before it starts. Listing Miguel as a runaway is the first big mistake the police make. They'll be many more.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

My hope, truthfully, was that if I go to the police they would help us. You know, this was just a disaster. A disaster.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Going to the police was a disaster.

Hannah Dreir

After days with no apparent progress from police, Carlota, realized she needed a new strategy. She started going around posting missing person flyers, which she wrote herself because the police had not made any. She searched for Miguel every day on residential streets, strip malls, at American Eagle, his favorite clothing store, and in the woods. Including one patch of forest that the police call the killing fields. It's a gang hang out and dumping ground for bodies.

The trees are so dense there that it's hard to see very far into them. Condoms and cigar wrappers and empty spray paint cans blanket the ground. At the heart of these woods is an abandoned psychiatric hospital. The dozens of possibilities she'd been replaying in her head, we're converging on a single fear, MS-13. She knew they were active in Brentwood, but she didn't know much more.

MS-13 leaders in the US are often really young, like high school aged. On Long Island, some of the most brutal MS-13 violence has been masterminded by 15 and 16-year-olds. Brentwood high school was shared by a few MS-13 cliques. That's what they call their subgroups-- the Hollywood Locos, the Brentwood Locos, and the Sailors. They wear blue plastic rosaries and Nike Cortez sneakers. The other gangs at the school were as color coded as teams at camp.

At the time Miguel went missing, Suffolk County Police mostly left the gangs alone. Members had the run of the woods around town and the halls of the high school. Miguel's older sister, Lady, was a sophomore at Brentwood high school when Miguel went missing. Lady has a habit of narrowing her eyes when she talks. She's streetwise, but also churchgoing. She had been a natural loner all her life, unlike Miguel, who has always been teased for his stutter, and was desperate to seem cool.

At Brentwood high school, Lady, had become even more standoffish to keep the gang kids away, which wasn't always easy because gang members aggressively approach new students at school and pressure them to join.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

If they didn't see you with a stern look in your face, or if they didn't see you mad, then they would treat you badly.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

It was different for me because I had a strong temper. But Miguel was not like that. He was weak. He was the spoiled child.

Hannah Dreir

When Miguel started in the high school, did you tell him the things that you had learned?

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I would tell him, you know, when you're changing period from one class to the other, don't talk to certain people. And he'd say, OK.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And at first, he did. He did listen to me. But then, you know, he had friends that I did not know. And I told him, do not make friends.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

A week after Miguel went missing, Carlota did an interview with a Spanish language news channel to talk about his disappearance.

Radio Announcer

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

The footage shows Carlota leaning heavily on Abraham, as the two walk through a strip mall in jackets and winter hats, taping up their missing person flyers. She says, there are so many things you hear about in this country. That the gangs go and take kids. That's what I fear the most. That they've taken him. Carlota brought up the possibility that gangs might be involved in Miguel's disappearance. But the Suffolk County Police still said no foul play was suspected and continued to list him as a runaway.

Another big problem with the police's treatment of these immigrant families, was they were dismissive, and sometimes even treated them like suspects. Carlota came to feel intimidated by Detective Perez. She says he seemed angry at her. He was big, like a bodybuilder, with tattoos circling his arms. One day he sat her down and accused her of knowing more than she was saying about Miguel.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Then he started telling me, you know where he is. And I said, what? Like, why do I know where he is? I come here all the time asking where he is.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

If I knew where he was then I wouldn't be here. And I just wanted to hit him when he told me that. And he said, well, if you don't know where he is--

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

--then you should go to a witch doctor, because then, they can help you find Miguel.

Hannah Dreir

Detective Perez told Carlota to find a brujo, which is Spanish for witch doctor, or fortune teller.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I don't know why he said that. It's like, I can't do anything more for you. You need to go and see the witch doctor because he just didn't want to help anymore.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

One of the starkest ways that the police demonstrated their indifference to the families, was that they wouldn't even speak to them in their own language. This underlies so much of what went wrong. Even Detective Perez, who could speak Spanish. Lady told me something else that happened in that brujo conversation.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He just said, I'm not speaking Spanish anymore because this is America. Nobody speaks Spanish, only English, so why don't you just go back.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Even knowing that my mom doesn't speak a word of English.

Hannah Dreir

How did you feel when he said that?

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I felt bad. You know, because she was Latino, and to come and say this to us knowing that we needed him. That we needed for him to find someone for us.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And he just simply didn't feel like speaking our language to us.

Hannah Dreir

Carlota and Lady are not unusual in Suffolk County. Though the county includes really ritzy places like the Hamptons, it also has towns like Brentwood, where families get by on minimum wage jobs, and most people speak Spanish as their first language. 20% of the county is Hispanic. But in 2016, in the entire Suffolk County Police Department, 3,500 employees, only three people were certified to interpret for Spanish speakers.

Unlike a majority of big police departments, Suffolk County doesn't give officers extra pay for knowing a second language. They do pay police well, though. They're actually one of the best paid departments in the country. Detective Perez made just under $200,000 a year, and lived in a gated community several towns away from where he works. Detective Perez wouldn't talk to me for this story, by the way. When I knocked on his door, he said he had no comment, and told me to get off his property.

Almost two months after Miguel went missing, there was a breakthrough in the case. But the person who made it was not a Suffolk County Detective. It was Miguel's sister, Lady. One morning, she borrowed Abraham's cell phone and discovered that Miguel had left his Facebook account open there. She suddenly had access to his Facebook Messenger chats. She could look through all the conversations he had with his friends, up to the day he went missing.

Lady

Here, look.

Hannah Dreir

Lady showed me the messages.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Yes. That was Miguel's entire messenger conversation.

Hannah Dreir

Most of them were failed attempts to flirt with girls at school. In others, he's talking about smoking weed. In one conversation, he tells a friend he wants a pair of Nike Cortez sneakers. But the friend tells him he can't wear those because they're a sign of MS-13. That's an important piece of advice. MS-13 doesn't have businesses like a normal criminal organization. And instead, commits violence for the sake of violence, killing victims with bats and machetes for minor shows of disrespect, like wearing Nike Cortez shoes without their permission.

And then, there's just one conversation from the day Miguel disappeared. Text and audio messages between Miguel and someone named Alexander Lokote. Lokote isn't a last name. It means something like homeboy or gangster. So you can see the day that Miguel went missing. There's like 20 messages back and forth between him and Alexander.

The conversation begins at 8:54 in the morning. And ends at 7:06 that night. Right around when Carlota was getting home and discovering that Miguel wasn't there. Alexander tells Miguel he's gotten his hands on some weed, and invites him to smoke later on with two other boys. One of the other boys is a kid named Jairo. Miguel had just started smoking weed. His mother and sister didn't even know he had tried it. Miguel seems pleased and surprised, and responds with a voice message.

Miguel

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

That's Miguel. He's saying, oh, you're so bad. What have you done? At this point in the morning, Miguel was still with Carlota at the mall. It sounds like her in the background of some of these messages, talking and laughing.

Miguel

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

Miguel says he wants to bring along a friend, but Alexander says, no, don't do that. Jairo won't like it. Jairo's going to hook them up with weed. Later, Miguel and Alexander argue about whether to meet in the woods or at Miguel's house. Miguel tells Alexander that he'd prefer to meet at his house because he doesn't like to go out into the trees. But finally, Miguel gives in and agrees to meet in the woods near the high school, a few blocks away from his house. The last message is from Alexander.

Alexander

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

He tells Miguel he's by the fluorescent lights already, at the school. He seems annoyed that Miguel isn't there yet. And then, nothing. In the days and months after that night, Miguel's Facebook account is flooded with messages from family and friends wondering where he is, or vowing to find him. But none of those messages was from Alexander Lokote.

Abraham showed all these Facebook messages to Detective Perez. Carlota said soon afterward, the detective called with a strange suggestion. He asked Abraham and Carlota if they wanted to meet him at the high school. He said he was going to interview Alexander Lokote in the principal's office, to see what he might know. And for some reason, he wanted to give them a chance to be there for it. When they got to the high school, Alexander Lokote was there. Lady had been called out of class, and was waiting outside the office.

Hannah Dreir

What did Alexander look like?

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He was scared.

Hannah Dreir

Scared how?

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He looked kind of pale, and as though he wanted to get out of there right away.

Hannah Dreir

Did Alexander dress like a gang member?

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Yeah, he was dressed like a gang member. He was wearing his white long t-shirt.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And I saw the rosary.

Hannah Dreir

What color rosary?

Lady

Blue.

Hannah Dreir

I ran this episode past a few police experts. And they all said it was really odd that Detective Perez invited the victim's family to an interrogation of a witness or a potential suspect like that. For one thing, it could make it harder to use anything Alexander said that day to build the case in court. They said that if Detective Perez suspected foul play at that point, he should have gotten a warrant to search Alexander's phone.

Abraham thought that Alexander looked young, and so weak that he couldn't break a plate. He said that Alexander told him that he, Jairo, and another kid, had planned to go with Miguel to some train tracks. But Miguel never showed up. Carlota told Abraham that so far, her teenage daughter seemed to have made more progress than the detectives.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

This was such a key thing that he knows. What else do they want? They weren't doing anything.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

It's not clear what happened to Alexander Lokote. Lady tells me that after this meeting, she stopped seeing him in school. I've been trying to find Alexander for months, but nobody I've talked to knows his real last name.

Carlota stopped going to her job at an envelope factory. She spent most of her time in her basement apartment looking through Miguel's clothes, breathing in their smell, and trying to distract herself by reading romance novels.

She hated when Lady went out, even to attend church. Nearly three months after Miguel disappeared, at the end of April, the state finally gave Carlota a missing person poster. The poster read, quote, "Miguel is a runaway." Then one afternoon in May, Carlota was watching the news at home when she saw another mother on TV, crying.

News Anchor

Oscar Acosta disappeared two weeks ago. Police believe it's suspicious.

Hannah Dreir

Oscar Acosta, was a 19-year-old, weeks away from graduating high school. He had emigrated from El Salvador to Brentwood three years before. He left home to play soccer one night and hadn't been seen since. When Oscar's mother went to the police station, this may sound familiar to you, she had a hard time finding an officer who spoke Spanish. So she enlisted her cousin, and a woman from church, to help her talk to the officers. She felt that the police were ignoring the case, so she started posting handmade missing person flyers, just as Carlota had.

In June, a third Brentwood high school student went missing, Jose Pena. He was 18 years old. Emigrated from El Salvador two years before, like Oscar. Jose's mother didn't speak English either. When she went to the police station, she also says there was no one who spoke Spanish. So she had to ask her cab driver to interpret for her. He charged her $70. The police told her not to worry. Her son was probably hanging out with friends. He'd be back soon.

Oscar and Jose were not minors, so they couldn't be listed as runaways. Police put out a press release on Oscar's disappearance two weeks after he went missing. They never said anything about Jose. These mothers have told me that it seems to them like police were either uninterested in helping them, or unable to do their jobs. They said it seemed like they were being brushed off because they were immigrants.

The Suffolk County Police Department wouldn't comment on any of the specifics of what happened with these families. They wouldn't comment about why they incorrectly classified all these disappearances as runaways. But they did send this statement, quote, "Our response to a reported missing person does not differ based on nationality or ethnicity." They also said, quote, "Suffolk County Police officers are among the finest in the country and treat everyone with professionalism and compassion."

But the mothers in these cases aren't just being oversensitive. The Department of Justice investigated the Suffolk County Police Department for two years, and in 2011, issued its observations. It documents a pattern of discrimination against Latinos. A former DOJ official said the department was both over and under policing Latino residents. Stopping them more frequently than white people for minor violations, while also failing to fully look into the crimes they reported. The DOJ called out the department for the exact problems Carlota and the other parents had told me about-- not enough Spanish speakers, not doing enough to protect Latino teenagers from gangs, and not taking Latino victims seriously, even treating them like suspects.

The police department agreed to federal oversight until the bias issues were fixed. But seven years after the DOJ investigation ended, they're still finding the same problems. Because of the nature of the agreement, it's not overseen by a court. There isn't much the DOJ can do beyond issuing progress reports every year.

In the midst of the disappearances of these three boys, another Brentwood high school student went missing. A 15-year-old girl from El Salvador, whose family asked that I not use her name. But unlike Miguel, Oscar, and Jose, after 2 and 1/2 days, her father found her just walking on the street by a White Castle. She said she'd been with some older boys. Her father couldn't figure out if she'd gone with them willingly, or if she'd been kidnapped. But something seemed wrong to him. His daughter wasn't acting normally. He thought maybe she had been drugged, possibly raped. And she'd just gotten some threatening text messages.

So as soon as they found her, he and his wife took her to the Suffolk County Police Department to ask them to investigate. The girl's father had been a cop in El Salvador, and ever since she'd gone missing, he'd been having trouble getting the police to take her disappearance seriously. So he and his wife secretly videotaped the meeting.

Michael Cammarata

OK. And what did you do?

Girl

I left.

Michael Cammarata

With?

Hannah Dreir

Watching the video, you can see firsthand how two Suffolk County Police officers treat an immigrant family that's come in to report a crime. In the video, the girl is sitting at a desk across from a detective named Michael Cammarata, who's leaning back in his chair. The father's crouching on the floor. And immediately, Detective Cammarata begins interrogating the girl in English. As if she was the one who'd done something wrong. Instead of asking the 15-year-old girl about how she may have been hurt, Detective Cammarata threatens to throw her in juvenile detention, which is in Nassau County. He thinks she was lying about something. And she is being vague and evasive in her answers.

Michael Cammarata

Who were you with?

Girl

[INAUDIBLE].

Michael Cammarata

They said you were with two boys. That's what Fanny said.

Girl

Really?

Michael Cammarata

Yeah. So you need to -- look, I don't-- do you not understand what I've been going through for the last two days trying to find you? OK. And how much trouble you could be in? It's up to me, whether or not I take you to Nassau County and you stay there. OK? Which just means, it's just you and I. Not your family. I take you. I put handcuffs on you. And I take you. OK? So you need to tell me who you were with. Who were the boys?

Hannah Dreir

The girl's dad doesn't speak English, but he can make out the details of what they're talking about. He hears a name he recognizes, and he can tell his daughter isn't giving the full story. He wants to jump in and help the cops. Give some information about an older guy she's been hanging out with. And he wants to understand and monitor the conversation between the detective and his 15-year-old daughter. So he asked the detective for an interpreter.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Michael Cammarata

OK.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

The detective ignores his request, which is technically a violation of federal civil rights laws. A minute later, the girl's dad asks again.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Michael Cammarata

He said that too.

Hannah Dreir

Another 2 and 1/2 minutes pass with no interpreter. So the girl's dad asks her to translate his request to the detective.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Girl

Well, he said he needed an interpreter.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Girl

So he can inform you of everything.

Michael Cammarata

So he can inform me?

Girl

No. So he can tell you everything. Because he doesn't speak that much English.

Hannah Dreir

The girl's dad actually starts leaving the room to try to find an interpreter himself. The detective tells him to stay put.

Michael Cammarata

Tell him he has to stay.

Hannah Dreir

Finally, as the detective continues interrogating the girl, the dad takes out his cell phone and calls a community advocate he knows. He passes the phone over to the detective.

Michael Cammarata

Hello?

Community Advocate

[INAUDIBLE]

Girl's Dad

This is Carlos, I need interpreter, no understand.

Michael Cammarata

OK. What is he want me to interpret?

Hannah Dreir

The guy on the phone repeats what the dad has been saying, that he needs an interpreter. And the detective agrees to get another officer who speaks Spanish.

Community Advocate

[INAUDIBLE]

Michael Cammarata

OK. All right. I'm just going to use an officer. I just wanted to make sure what he was looking for.

Hannah Dreir

He said, I wanted to make sure what he was looking for. Though it seems like the dad has made that pretty clear.

Community Advocate

[INAUDIBLE]

Michael Cammarata

OK. All right.

Hannah Dreir

The detective hands the phone back to him, and he goes right back to interrogating the girl--

Michael Cammarata

All right. So you're with Carlos. Who else is in the house with Carlos?

Hannah Dreir

--in English.

Girl

Just Carlos.

Hannah Dreir

Six minutes go by, the dad asks for an interpreter for the seventh time. And finally, the detective goes out to get one.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

Here he returns with another detective, who speaks Spanish.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Detective Perez

Si, senor.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH] OK.

Hannah Dreir

It's Detective Perez. The same guy Carlota has been dealing with. The dad starts explaining the whole saga in Spanish, but Perez cuts him off. He turns to the girl and asks if she speaks English. She says she does.

Detective Perez

Now, you speak English. You speak English?

Hannah Dreir

The dad jumps in and asks Perez to speak in Spanish.

Michael Cammarata

He doesn't speak Spanish, so if you speak English, you speak English.

Girl's Dad

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

Perez Ignores her dad and begins interrogating the daughter in English.

Luis Perez

You think that we're as dumb as the kids you hang out with?

Hannah Dreir

He tells the girl she's lying. And like the other detective, he threatens to lock her up in juvie.

Luis Perez

How about instead of going back with your parents, we bring you to the Nassau County juvenile facility, to jail? Because you're a juvenile delinquent by law. You know what that means? That you don't follow the rules, we can bring you to a juvenile jail. And you just stay there, until your parents are ready to get you.

Hannah Dreir

The interrogation gets more intense. Detective Cammarata threatens to take the girl to a hospital and do tests on her to see what she's been up to with these older guys. The 15-year-old hangs her head and explains to her mom in tears what the detectives have been saying. She says the officers are accusing her of lying. She says she doesn't want them to arrest her and deport her.

Girl

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

The girl did give them one of the names of the guys she was with. The detectives, as far as I can tell, don't use it as a lead. Instead, Detective Perez goes into this whole scared straight speech with her. He tells her to stop hanging out with these guys. And if she doesn't, he'll go after them, and then they'll be mad at her.

Luis Perez

We have ways of going into old messages. We'll find this guy you were with. We'll lock him up. We'll then lock everybody up that they end up hating you for you putting them in this position. You're a young girl. Stay away from these older guys, because you'll only get them in trouble. OK?

Hannah Dreir

Instead of taking the girl's parents' concerns seriously, or even hearing them out in their own language, Detective Perez threatens their daughter. And her parents had good reason to be concerned. Their daughter told me that she had spent the days with an MS-13 gang member, who a year later would be charged with four murders.

Nine months later, the girl went missing again. She came home again, and this time she seemed genuinely scared. Her father called the police to ask once more if the officers would investigate the guy she'd been with. He says they came over, talked to the girl, said they'd be in touch, and never were.

It's unclear if they investigated beyond that. If they did investigate, they might have learned that she'd been with the leader of one of the MS-13 cliques, a guy who's now charged with six counts of murder.

Ira Glass

Hannah Dreir. Coming up, all those cops you've been hearing about all this hour? Hannah asks their boss, what the hell? That's in a minute, when our program continues.

Act Two: Act Two

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's show, "The Runaways," investigative reporter Hannah Dreir from ProPublica is telling the story of a string of murders of immigrant teenagers in Long Island by the gang MS-13 that, for months and months, it seemed like the Suffolk County Police were not treating as murders, and certainly did not solve.

When families reported their children missing, police told them that their kids were fine. They chose to ignore leads and evidence the parents offered, didn't follow procedures and best practices that other police departments follow in similar cases. And they listed the children as runaways, which had effects on how rigorous the investigations were.

The families believe they were treated this way because they're all Spanish-speaking immigrants. So Hannah sat down with Timothy Sini. He was the Suffolk County Police commissioner from 2016 to the beginning of 2018. Basically, he was in charge of the cops during these cases-- to see how he explained this police behavior. Here's Hannah.

Hannah Dreir

When people on Long Island talk about Timothy Sini, they talk about him as a future congressman or New York attorney general. Sometimes, they say it in an earnest way, because he's clean cut, with some movie star sparkle, a heavy square jaw, and a diploma from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a Democratic Golden Boy in Trump Country.

Sometimes, they say it with an eye roll, because Timothy Sini is a professional politician who revels in media attention, who has been known to hold press conferences to talk about Halloween safety, and who appears to be swinging through short stints in New York institutions with his eye on bigger things.

Sini worked his way through the US attorney's office and the Long Island County Executive's office to become the youngest ever head of the Suffolk County Police Department, at the age of 36. Today, he's no longer the police commissioner. Last year, he was elected to be the Suffolk County District Attorney. One of his campaign slogans was "the man who took MS-13 down."

We sat in a conference room at a beautiful dark wood table. Government buildings are unusually nice in Suffolk County. And I asked him about the immigrant boys who went missing in 2016.

Hannah Dreir

Part of what we're writing about is the kids who went missing during that time. And I noticed that--

Timothy Sini

What time?

Hannah Dreir

During, like, 2016, 2017.

Timothy Sini

What kids went missing in 2016, 2017?

Hannah Dreir

Oscar Acosta.

Timothy Sini

No, that's before then.

Hannah Dreir

No, they all went missing in 2016. Miguel Garcia. That was all 2016.

Timothy Sini

No, it was 2015.

Hannah Dreir

No, no, no. It was definitely 2016.

Timothy Sini

I would have to double check.

Hannah Dreir

This is an important distinction, because if they had happened in 2015, which they didn't, that would have been before Timothy Sini took over the department.

Hannah Dreir

I guess, like--

Timothy Sini

But they went missing in 2015.

Hannah Dreir

OK. I mean--

Timothy Sini

Right? I mean, we can just check.

Woman

I don't know.

Timothy Sini

Yeah, we can just check the records.

Hannah Dreir

Yeah, do you wanna Google that?

Timothy Sini

I mean, I could be-- well, don't Google it. Check, like, real records.

Hannah Dreir

On?

Timothy Sini

Like a missing persons report.

Hannah Dreir

Yeah, I mean, it's on--

Timothy Sini

Right. Google?

Hannah Dreir

It's reported. That was all reported.

Timothy Sini

Oh, I don't go based on reports.

Hannah Dreir

So you don't remember when they went missing, it sounds like.

Timothy Sini

I don't have the exact date, but I can get it to you very easily.

Hannah Dreir

OK. So anyway, when they went missing, their parents say that--

Timothy Sini

You know, that's very important too. Because when I came in as police commissioner, we can get the exact dates and then lay out the whole chronology. But when I came as police commissioner--

Hannah Dreir

Here's the whole chronology. Timothy Sini took over the department in January 2016. Miguel went missing in February. The 15-year-old girl in the secret recording went missing and was found in March. Oscar went missing in April. Jose Pena went missing in June.

Once we actually started talking about the missing kid cases, former police commissioner Sini immediately said something I hadn't heard from anyone. He said the police knew as soon as the boys disappeared that they were murder victims, not runaways, not just missing people.

Timothy Sini

But when I came as police commissioner, we had some missing boys, right? And right away, Chief Giganti, Gerard Giganti, who I promoted to chief detective, came to me and said, "I don't think these boys are missing. I believe they're homicide victims. I believe they're victims of MS-13 gang violence."

Hannah Dreir

When did he say that?

Timothy Sini

Basically, as soon as I was told that we had missing boys, that was his analysis.

Hannah Dreir

So you were told these three boys were missing. We suspect they're homicides.

Timothy Sini

There's no question about that. They were likely homicide victims. No doubt about it, right out of the gate.

Hannah Dreir

So when you first came in.

Timothy Sini

When I first-- I have to look at when they were reported missing for the fifth time, OK?

Hannah Dreir

OK, I mean, I'm telling you--

Timothy Sini

But I'm telling you that right out of the gate, we suspected they were homicides.

Hannah Dreir

This was nuts to me, because the police appeared to be treating so many of the kids as runaways, were telling their parents not to worry, that they'd come home soon.

Hannah Dreir

So the first one, Miguel Moran, he was missing, and he was listed as a runaway for-- he was listed, like, three times as a runaway. He went missing in February.

Timothy Sini

There may have been several times he went missing.

Hannah Dreir

No, he went missing once, in February. And then he was listed as a runaway.

Timothy Sini

So I am not going to sit here and debate with you facts about when someone went missing. We will pull the missing persons report.

Hannah Dreir

I mean, I can show you here.

Timothy Sini

I don't care what article you're showing me.

Hannah Dreir

It's just, like-- it's the date, February 2016. I have the-- I think I might even have the missing persons.

Timothy Sini

OK, so February 2016. That may be right on that particular one. So he goes missing in February 2016, which is a few months after I get in. Gerry Giganti, out of the gate, says that this is not a missing persons. It is a homicide. Which is why we transferred the missing persons case from the general squad. Typically, it's a general squad investigation. We transfer it immediately to the major case squad.

Hannah Dreir

So in Miguel's case, he went missing in February, and then this is the poster that the family was given. This is now two months later, in April. And again, it says Miguel is a runaway. So he seems, at least from the outside, like he was listed as a runaway.

Timothy Sini

Mm-hmm.

Hannah Dreir

And the police told at least the state that he was a runaway. And that happened again with all the boys.

Timothy Sini

Yeah, it's information that they probably received from the person filing the missing persons report.

Hannah Dreir

In other words, Miguel's family.

Timothy Sini

Just because--

Hannah Dreir

No, the person was convinced that he was not a runaway.

Timothy Sini

I don't know the source of the runaway component. I don't know where the runaway part came from. I don't know if it came from someone in the family. I don't know if it came from another witness. I don't know if it came from a friend of the boy. But there is no question that, internally, there's no doubt that the Suffolk County Police Department, essentially out of the gate, believed that there was foul play.

Hannah Dreir

This is, of course, at odds with the press release the Suffolk County Police put out after Miguel disappeared, which said, quote, "Detectives do not believe there is foul play involved in Moran's disappearance."

Timothy Sini said he wasn't aware of any policy about listing a kid as a runaway instead of as a missing person. I wanted to know why the Suffolk County Police Department's rules and procedures had so little to say about what to do if a kid goes missing. Just two paragraphs compared to much more detailed guidelines and checklists in Nassau County and New York City.

Former Commissioner Sini said he didn't know what I was talking about, so I showed him a copy of that section, which I had with me.

Hannah Dreir

Basically, there are two paragraphs. One says--

Timothy Sini

I understand what you said. And I said I think there is actually more to it. And I think maybe, depending-- I don't know if we can get that to you, because that would essentially reveal investigative steps, but--

Hannah Dreir

There's more to it? Like, more in the rules and procedures?

Timothy Sini

Yes, I believe there--

Hannah Dreir

I mean, these are the rules and procedures.

Timothy Sini

I can assure you that these are not the rules and procedures of the Suffolk County Police Department. The rules the procedures of the Suffolk County Police Department are about 5,000 pages long.

Hannah Dreir

They're 1,602 pages long. I have a copy. The Police Department's press office pointed out to me that if a child goes missing, the rules and procedures include another way they can find him or her. There are a few paragraphs about the statewide missing person alert system and how to request an alert. But the police never did that for Miguel, or the 15-year-old girl, or Oscar, or Jose.

The press office also said that police officers learn how to deal with missing children in more detail during their training. The rules and procedures also say that police officers have to provide free Spanish language interpretation for anyone whose primary language is not English. And the agreement with the Department of Justice says that police have to use interpretation services instead of forcing Spanish speakers to rely on their children or hire their taxi drivers. I asked Timothy Sini about the mom who told me she did just that.

Timothy Sini

So we have a contract with Language Line, which is part of our language access plan.

Hannah Dreir

Great, so I wonder why it wasn't used.

Timothy Sini

Can you not interrupt me? So listen. So we have a contract with language access. If there is a--

Hannah Dreir

Language Line is a service where police can call an interpreter on the phone if there's no one available in the office. Police tell me it can be a hassle to use. Also, the connections can be bad, with dropped calls and annoyingly bad sound quality. I asked Former Commissioner Sini about the 15-year-old girl's experience, the one that was caught on the recording, and how many times the detectives refused to speak with her father in Spanish. But he said he wouldn't respond to, quote, "bald allegations."

The Suffolk County Police tell me they've improved. They say they now have 10 certified interpreters, up from three. But according to the most recent DOJ report, from March, they're still not regularly using professional interpreters. The report says that when non-English speakers call the department, they are only given interpretation services 20% of the time. And the department is still letting officers use bilingual children as crime scene interpreters, even though the DOJ keeps saying that that should be banned.

I recently talked to a 12-year-old girl whose brother was attacked by MS-13 in the woods by their house. The gang cut off his hand with a machete. When the police came to interview him, they asked her to interpret for him. She told me that after she heard her brother tell all the details of the attack, she didn't want to leave the house anymore.

Everyone, former Commissioner Sini included, agrees on one thing-- what led to the boys being found, and their cases being investigated more rigorously-- were the next MS-13 attacks, the double murder of two teenage girls, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens.

In September, seven months after Miguel disappeared, best friends Kayla and Nisa were walking on a quiet street near Kayla's home, when a group of boys they'd been feuding with at school jumped out of a car and attacked them. They used baseball bats and machetes. The attackers left 15-year-old Nisa's mangled body right there on the street. 16-year-old Kayla was missing overnight. The next day, a neighbor found her body in a patch of woods on the same block. Almost immediately, the full force of the Suffolk County Police Department kicked into gear.

Reporter

And Maurice, police are calling the murders of these two teenage girls an act of savagery on this community, and they're asking for the public's help. They're also stepping up anti-gang enforcement they have at every level, they say, patrolling this neighborhood and Brentwood High School to find the killer or killers.

Hannah Dreir

One obvious difference between the girl's deaths and the boys was that the police had the girls' bodies. The gang hadn't tried to hide them. But the boys' parents point out that the murders were different in another way. The boys were immigrants, from Spanish-speaking families. Kayla and Nisa, on the other hand, were girls born on Long Island, whose parents were English-speaking American citizens with nice homes and professional jobs.

Dozens of officers went door to door, asking for tips. The department increased patrols and posted flyers offering a cash reward of $15,000 for help catching the girls' killers. Police arrested 25 suspected MS-13 members and mapped out their cliques. Within days, officers were searching the woods with German Shepherds and shovels. A Suffolk County Detective visited Carlota at home and swabbed her teeth for DNA. Timothy Sini held press conferences.

Timothy Sini

We've made a strategic subject list of known gang members in the area. And we're going to be enhancing our presence here to target those individuals.

Hannah Dreir

Lady was watching all of this play out.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

When Miguel and Oscar went missing, barely anyone would talk about it.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

But then, when the girls were murdered, then everyone was talking about it.

Lady

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

But it was as though nobody could remember that there were some missing persons as well.

Hannah Dreir

A few days after the girls were killed, Carlota was home watching Univision.

Reporter

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

It was on TV that I learned when they found Oscar. And I just started to panic. Panic, panic, panic.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And my daughter said, no, Mom. But that's not Miguel. That's Oscar that they found. But I was panicking because I said, well, if they had found Oscar, then they practically found Miguel. And my daughter said, no, calm down. It's Oscar. It's not Miguel.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

Police had found Oscar's body in the woods, the ones they call the killing fields, near some train tracks. The reporter also said that another body had been found in the same place.

Reporter

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

And just then, through the window of the basement apartment, Carlota saw two men in suits coming down the stairs.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I saw people coming in through the door. And when I saw that it was the same guy who came to take my DNA, I knew that they were here to give me some news.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And I just-- I don't know. I just started to scream, and cry, and kneel, and just like I was dragging myself on the floor, because I knew why they were there.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And then they left. And that's where I stopped remembering. It's like my mind was clouded.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And then, the next thing I knew, I woke up at the hospital.

Hannah Dreir

Carlota had run out of the apartment, tripped on some stairs outside, and smashed her face on the cement. The hospital staff wrote a summary on her chart. It said, quote, "altered mental state, patient repeatedly stating 'just kill me. My son, my son.'"

When she was released from the hospital, she packed Miguel's things, his clothes, video games, and school papers, into five trash bags and put them on the street. She felt guilty for having brought Miguel to Brentwood in the first place, for having told him to ignore the kids who were bothering him in school. When he was missing, Miguel's things had felt like a vital connection to someone who was alive, but now they seemed like recriminations.

The coroner listed the cause of death as a blow to the head. Within weeks of discovering Oscar and Miguel's bodies, police also found the body of Jose Pena, the third missing boy from Brentwood High School. He'd been buried in the same woods.

The double murder of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens and the police department's race to catch the killers got so much attention, it reached all the way to President Trump, who invited the girls' parents to his first State of the Union address.

Donald Trump

Their two teenaged daughters, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa's 16th birthday-- such a happy time it should have been-- neither of them came home.

Hannah Dreir

Trump drew a straight line from the girl's murders to the need for stronger immigration laws.

Donald Trump

Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied, alien minors, and wound up in Kayla and Nisa's high school.

Hannah Dreir

Of course, Miguel and Oscar and Jose were also in that high school. And their disappearances got so much less attention, not just by the president, but by the police. I asked former Commissioner Sini why the police seemed to do so little until the two girls died, especially if they thought the missing boys were homicides.

Timothy Sini

You know, when you have the double homicide of two high school girls in Brentwood, that's going to provide a catalyst to increase more resources in eradicating MS-13. And that's exactly what we did. If you want to criticize the Suffolk County Police Department for not doing enough against MS-13 prior to September 13, 2016, I suppose you can do that.

Hannah Dreir

Why would you say that?

Timothy Sini

Well, that's what you're suggesting. So what I'm suggesting to you is that it's clearly a fact that we did increase our efforts against MS-13 on September 13, 2016.

Hannah Dreir

It may be true that the police stepped up their efforts after September 13th, but they weren't necessarily effective. The murders continued. In October, a few weeks after the girls were killed, MS-13 killed another 15-year-old immigrant high schooler. When his father reported him missing, police listed him as a runaway. A few days later, a man's body was found in the street.

After that, it was a suspected rival killed in a deli, then four young men cut up and left together in a gruesome tableau in the woods. All told, the gang killed eight more people by the spring of 2017. By then, MS-13 murders accounted for 40% of homicides in Suffolk County.

I've spoken with most of the victim's families. All of them are Latino immigrants. And even though their loved ones were killed after September 13th, they all told me they felt ignored and disrespected by the Suffolk County Police.

There are lots of ways to frame why the cops treated them like this. The parents say it's because they're immigrants. The DOJ says the department has unlawful bias and discrimination. This one retired Suffolk County detective I talked to had another word for it. His name is Rob Trotta. He's now a county politician. He left the police department a year and a half before Timothy Sini came in.

Rob Trotta

There is a term among law enforcement. It's called a misdemeanor murder. You know, they're killing each other. I guess it's a bad thing to say they were killing each other, but were killing low income, minority people. Which, you know, is horrible.

Hannah Dreir

That means like a murder that's not going to get as much attention as the other ones, or you're not going to get as much glory for solving?

Rob Trotta

No, it's like you know, you're anyone, and there's a murder where someone really got murdered, you're going to put attention to that, because this guy, you know, was-- I don't want to say asking for it. No one should be asking for murder, but clearly he put himself in a position to be killed. Now, that's very different from two girls being murdered, high school girls, by MS-13. That's not misdemeanor murder.

Hannah Dreir

I asked the Suffolk County Police if their cops use this term. They sent back a statement saying, quote, "Every investigation is rigorously conducted, regardless of victim or circumstances. And department resources are allocated accordingly."

But there's another reason why the investigations into the boy's disappearances were so anemic. Several detectives and FBI agents talked to me about it. They said the team who handled cases like this in Suffolk County used to be excellent. This was over a decade ago, starting back in 2003, when the FBI first created a joint gang task force on Long Island.

It's basically like a team made up of FBI agents and local detectives. They share intel, fight crime together. Suffolk County Police sent three of its detectives to join them. Rob Trotta was one of those detectives. And for nearly a decade, they had MS-13 on the run.

Rob Trotta

I call it the 1978 Yankees, when everything just clicks and you know, we had informants everywhere. They really had a pulse for what was going on. We would cover gang and clique meetings, where we had two people wired up, just so we could see what was going on. If they broke off, we would have conversations and everything.

Hannah Dreir

They shared resources with the feds, who had way more money and training. They solved murders, and even got wind of planned murders before they happened and stopped them. It was going great, until, in 2012, the Suffolk County Police Chief at the time, a guy named James Burke, got into a squabble with the FBI and pulled his detectives from the task force.

Then a few months later, Burke got into big trouble himself for beating up a guy who had been arrested for theft. The thief had stolen a duffel bag from Burke's car, which was weirdly filled with dildos and porn. The FBI started investigating him as a result. Burke was eventually put in prison for violating civil rights and obstructing justice.

But one major casualty of the whole fiasco was the department's anti-gang capabilities. They were decimated. When Timothy Sini took over the police department in early 2016, he restored the partnership with the FBI. But by then, Suffolk County had lost out more than three years of MS-13 intel. And it was really hard to catch up.

Finally, in March of 2017, a year after Miguel first went missing, the FBI gang task force, which now had Suffolk County cops back on it, made a big arrest. They charged two guys, 19-year-old Jairo Saenz and his 22-year-old brother Alexi, with organizing the murders of Kayla and Nisa six months before.

The brothers were the leaders of the main MS-13 clique at Brentwood High School, the Sailors. They've pled not guilty. Federal prosecutors have now charged at least 28 people with participating in the MS-13 mayhem on Long Island. It's a massive, ongoing case that includes at least 15 murders, eight attempted murders, arsons, assault, racketeering, and conspiracies to sell marijuana and cocaine.

Many of the accused ringleaders are teenagers. The case is still in progress, with new defendants added every few months. At least 10 people have been indicted for the murders of Oscar Acosta, Jose Pena, and the girls, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens. One person has already pled guilty to killing Jose Pena. But so far, no one's been charged for Miguel's death.

Carlota won't give Miguel a proper burial until his killer is brought to justice. So in the meantime, his ashes sit on a night stand.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

It's been three years, and the police have never come here to tell me anything. They just gave me back my son in a cardboard box. And that's what makes me mad. There are lots of parents, and we're all suffering. So if they could just have a little bit of wisdom, some feeling, some heart, to help us Latinos. I say Latinos, because if they were Americans-- and I'm sorry to say this, but if they were Americans, they would have found someone quickly. But because we're Latinos, we're always left behind.

Carlota

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Hannah Dreir

I think I know what happened to Miguel. In those Facebook messages from the day he went missing, he and Alexander Lokote talk about meeting up with a guy named Jairo. Alexander wants to meet Miguel at Jairo's house. Jairo says don't bring a friend. Jairo is going to supply the weed. I'm waiting for you at the school with Jairo.

One of the leaders of the MS-13 clique, the Sailors, the guy who's been charged with six murders now, including Oscar's and Kayla's and Nisa's murders, is Jairo Saenz. This summer, I talked to a former member of Jairo's clique, a guy named Henry, who's in immigration detention right now.

Henry told me, after he joined the Sailors, the first person the clique killed was a chubby Ecuadorean kid. I showed him a picture of Miguel, and he said, yeah, that was him. Henry says Miguel confused the Sailors, because he wore a clashing mix of gang gear. Sometimes, he'd come to school wearing the plastic rosary of MS-13. Other times, he'd be in the head-to-toe black of the 18th Street Gang, or sporting a red bandanna, a sign of the bloods.

Henry knew Miguel at school. Sometimes, they'd smoke weed together in the woods. And so one time, Henry says Jairo made him grill Miguel about why he was wearing clothes from these gangs, if he wasn't in a gang. Miguel said he didn't have to explain how he dressed to anyone. Henry thought Miguel was probably trying out gang clothes in an attempt to look cool. But the clique felt disrespected, and that's all it took to get Miguel killed-- a red bandanna.

Ira Glass

Hannah Dreir. She's a reporter for ProPublica. This story was a collaboration with them. There's a print version on their web site. ProPublica.org.

Something upsetting recently happened on Long Island, that we thought we should point out before we leave this subject. One of the parents who we mentioned in this story, Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of one of the girls who was killed, was also killed. Not by MS-13. It happened during an argument over the location of a memorial for her daughter. She was one of the parents who Donald Trump invited to the State of the Union address.

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Dana Chivvis and Sean Cole. The people who put our show together today includes Elna Baker, Zoe Chace, Whitney Dangerfield, Damian Graef, Chana Joffe-Walt, Seth Lind, Lawrence Lowe, Anna Martin, Nadia Reiman, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Dianne Wu. Our senior producer is Brian Reed. Our managing editor is Susan Burton.

Special thanks today to Peter Brill, Rob Bub, David Klinger, Vernon Geberth, Natalie Keyssar, Alexandra Zayas, Dan Golden, and our colleagues at ProPublica.

Quick program note. Our program Serial just launched its third season. Sarah Koenig and Emmanuel Dzotsi host. I've been hearing drafts of this for months. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It's about the court system. It gives this very vivid picture of ordinary cases that turn out to be all kinds of incredible in all kinds of ways. You can hear it at serialpodcast.org, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This American Life is delivered in to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always our program's co-founder, Tory Malatia. He is still using Yahoo. He says to me all the time, when I try to look up something online--

Timothy Sini

Well, don't Google it.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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