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Brenda Paz « This is for the Mara Salvatrucha

This Is For The Mara Salvatrucha is the first non-fiction narrative about the MS-13. It tells the story of Brenda Paz, a young street gang member who betrayed her gang and became an informant, revealing a previously unknown threat across America.

by Samuel Logan


Posts Tagged ‘Brenda Paz’

Diane Rehm show follow up…

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

So much fun!

The guest host, Susan was wonderful. Sarah Garland, my co-guest, was very articulate and smart. I enjoyed meeting her and chatting with her before we went in the studio for the show. And they let us keep Diane Rehm show gifts - a plastic mug and writing pad.

The callers were great. A lady from IL called, asking why we hadn’t talked about her small town, located 20 miles outside of Chicago. Another caller, who had worked in El Salvador monitoring deportees once they arrived in the country. He alluded to the fact that at the time, in the late 80s, early 90s, some deportees were killed when they arrived in the country - a very interesting perspective.

Have a listen, here!

QnA part V

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Q: Gang violence is a daily reality for some Americans, but certainly not all. Why should everyone be concerned about gang growth in this country? What can we do to control and limit it?

A: The MS-13 no longer limits recruitment to Latinos. There are many cases of Caucasian members. Cops across the country consistently say that parents are the last to know. The best way to limit street gangs is to invest in young people with more parental attention. The next best option is to create after school programs that keep young teens off the streets. Prevention goes much farther than intervention or rehabilitation.

Q. What are the best prevention strategies?

A: Awareness and after school activities are two of the most effective strategies used today. Facilitating classroom discussions and raising street gang awareness among parents go a long way toward helping children and their parents recognize a street gang presence in their lives. More importantly, parents who know the signs of street gang involvement are in a better position to address their child’s participation before it becomes too late. Oftentimes, however, parents work until late, creating a gap in time between school and when parental supervision in the evening. This after school period is when most gang recruiters strike. After school programs, such as team sports, are very effective at filling this gap and giving kids an organized outlet away from the enticing influences of gang members.

Q: Several of the law enforcement officers involved with Brenda Paz’s case made an heroic effort to help her escape gang life. Why, in the end, was it not enough?

A: Brenda was the first teenager in the history of the US Witness Protection program to enter without adult supervision. The program, which was designed for middle-aged mob informants, not pregnant teenage girls, failed to provide Brenda with the love and attention she so needed. She was alone too often, and eventually, at the deepest moment of her loneliness, the only person she thought to call was her boyfriend, an MS-13 member. He eventually betrayed her, which is ultimately what led to her death.

Another review…

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

This one from Newark, New Jersey:



Samuel Logan

Hyperion, 256 pp., $23.95


“This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha” is a comprehensive study of a violent, mostly Hispanic gang founded in the 1980s in Los Angeles. It now boasts 60,000 members worldwide and has so penetrating a presence in the United States that the FBI has created

a task force to curb its growth.

But the book also is the compelling story of the brief life and violent death of Brenda Paz, who joined MS-13 at 15 and was killed by fellow gang members before she turned 17 because they suspected she was a police informant.

Brenda was the smart, popular daughter of Honduran immigrants living in California whose life fell apart when her mother became mentally ill. The family returned to Honduras, but then sent Brenda to live with an uncle in Texas so she could attend high school in America.

Brenda missed her family, wasn’t happy in her uncle’s home and soon succumbed to the companionship offered by MS-13.

In no time, this promising teen was covered in tattoos characteristic of gang members, involved in the extortion activities the gang inflicted on the Latino community, arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center.

Law enforcement personnel — from local police to the FBI — saw Brenda’s potential as a window into the elusive MS-13, and she became an invaluable source of information.

Although officials went to great lengths to protect her, even placing her in a witness protection program,

Brenda’s loneliness ultimately drew her back to the gang, who welcomed her — until clues led them to believe she had ratted them out to the police, which meant they had to kill her.

Logan, a journalist who has written extensively about Latino gangs, tells Brenda’s story with sensitivity and brutal honesty.

Another review…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

This one from San Antonio, Tx.

This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang

By Samuel Logan

Hyperion, $24.99

By David Hendricks

One of the most frightening true stories you’ll read this summer begins close to home in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Carrollton.

In the first chapter of Samuel Logan’s “This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13,” a book that chillingly illuminates the gang threat in the United States, a teenage girl leads an innocent friend to his brutal murder at the hands of her gang-leader boyfriend just before Christmas 2001.

Brenda Paz of Honduras was horrified by the death, but not so much that she was deterred from seeking membership with MS-13. Paz is a 21st-century version of another Dallas-based outlaw: Bonnie Parker. Both are worthy of great empathy and maddening in their repeated bad choices.

Paz grew up in California and returned with her family to Honduras. But when her mother became ill, her father sent her to the Dallas area to live with her uncle. The uncle never paid any attention to Paz. She found school boring, so she turned to street life. Her personality sparkled enough that she was accorded access to the highest levels of MS-13, territory almost exclusively reserved for males.

After her Dallas boyfriend was arrested, Paz left Texas and ended up in northern Virginia, starting a relationship with another MS-13 leader and murderer. They were arrested trying to steal a car, and that is when Paz decided to become a police informant, violating the cardinal rule of the MS-13, never to “rat.”

Paz struggled with her decision to give police and the FBI information about gang activities, and when she entered the FBI’s Witness Protection Program as its first teenager, Paz emotionally was unable to deal with the isolation.

She developed father-daughter relationships with law enforcement officials who tried to help her make the transition to a better life, and our empathy for her grows. But Paz chose gang life.

Logan, a Latin American-based investigative reporter, develops back stories as he narrates Paz’s life. The MS-13’s roots go back to the impoverished neighborhoods of civil war-torn El Salvador. The gang formed among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s; extreme violence was a response to rivalries with other gangs.

Through Paz, readers can visualize how children easily become gang members: Immigrant parents arrive in the United States and work long hours, leaving neglected children to develop their own “families” on the street.

Readers are left with the awareness that gangs are everywhere among us, that many members have jobs and families, that they can be invisible to the non-gang population and that violence is never far away.

David Hendricks is an Express-News business writer and columnist.

Some post-pub reviews

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

There have been a number of reviews since the book’s release. Below is one from the Library Journal. And here is one from the Washington Times. Finally, there are six on the book’s page on

July 15 ,2009

Brenda was jumped into the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang in Texas when she was just 15. Her relationships with gang leaders led to a meteoric rise within the MS until she was privy to most of its secrets; she witnessed several murders and knew about more to come. But her high-ranking boyfriends kept getting sent to prison, and lonely Brenda eventually became a police informant. This is where the real story begins: At age 16 Brenda was removed from her uncle’s guardianship in order to enter the Witness Protection Program. Required to spend her days alone in a hotel room, she rebelled by running away and reuniting with MS members, who learned she’d turned state’s witness and murdered her in a Virginia park. The reader wonders where her parents were throughout; the book is short on answers. Logan does not give us any information about Brenda’s childhood or family, although he does question the decision to sequester a teenager in a hotel for months. VERDICT More backstory would have made the book outstanding, but without it, it’s still an intriguing read and will appeal to many readers of true crime as well as urban studies. -Daisy Porter, San José P.L., CA

Comments from a Salvadorian

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

It’s 6:45AM on Sunday, 12 July, and while I was waiting on a radio station to call for a 7AM interview (not my idea!), I decided to browse through some unread email, and found this from a Salvadorian service member:

I was really moved when i read your latest book “This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang.” I am currently in the military and deployed. I learned about your book when i decided to google “MS-13 book.”  I wanted to see if there was any books on this group.  Then i found yours and ordered it online.  The same day i recieved the book in the mail, i managed to finish it.  I couldn’t stop myself from reading it.  You wrote a outstanding book or a “Chingón” book.   I myself am a Salvadorian and understand the hardship that Brenda Paz had to live through.  I am Happy that someone like you came around and had the “cajones” to write about the MS-13.

Of course it’s nice to receive positive feedback, but even more so when those comments come from someone who has likely seen the MS-13 up close for many years. I tried very heard to tell a complex story, and make it a readable narrative, but it was even more important to me to accurately portray a gang that so many know so little about, except people like Sr. Hurtado, from El Salvador, who wrote the above comment.