On September 4, I wrote about the May 29 killing of 16-year-old Gabriela Alejandra Gonzalez Ardon in a rural area in northern Baltimore County, Md. According to the Baltimore County Police Department, that killing was carried out by five men it believes "to be affiliated with the MS-13 gang". The circumstances of that killing and a separate associated assault, as well as the subsequent lack of public interest in the case, raise the question: If a girl dies in the forest, does anyone other than me care, and if not, why not?
There is a lot of back story, both haunting and tragic.
Ardon was a "Jane Doe", an unknown victim, after she was found on Merrymans Trail in northern Baltimore County on the morning of May 29 by a hiker. BCoPD took the unusual step of posting photos of distinctive tattoos on the body, and of the shirt that she was wearing, to give her a name.
She was identified by family members just over a week later. It appears that she had led a troubled life. She had first gone missing, according to police in Nassau County, N.Y. (where she had lived), in July 2019, then again in February, and a third time in March. On March 26, police there stated she could be headed to Baltimore.
Baltimore County surrounds Baltimore City (a separate jurisdiction) on three sides, but Merrymans Trail is nowhere near the city line — 13 miles (and a world) away. After writing about the case the first time, I went and walked the main trail, where the killing occurred. It is not more than a mile-and-a-half long and ends high above Loch Raven, a manmade lake that serves as a local reservoir.
The trail starts in a well-to-do residential neighborhood, but it becomes isolated quickly. There was a handmade sign asking hikers to carry out their bottles and cans on one side of the entrance:
And a makeshift memorial to Ardon (complete with the remnants of police tape) on the other:
I will get back to the memorial below, but the juxtapositioning of the two signs — one promoting civic virtue and the other detailing a horrendous killing — was jarring.
Large houses sit above and well back from the trail on its southern side for the first quarter mile, but thereafter it becomes heavily wooded. Massive residences and a barn sit on the northern side, in a fenced-off area that is marked as dedicated to forestry.
A stream runs along most of the main trail that empties into Loch Raven, and Ardon's body was found near the edge of the stream at the bottom of a slope.
The trail evidences criminality of a (frankly innocent) sort, but nothing like the murder of Ardon. Generations of lovers had carved hundreds of initials into the trees, and there were clearings where it appeared that local youth had held nighttime parties in the past. Most hikers appeared to heed the clean-up sign, as I only saw a couple of water bottles and some ancient beer cans along the way.
Based on the description in the police notice, I believe that this was the most likely spot where the killing occurred:
There are no houses anywhere nearby, and the slope runs down a hill to an isolated spot near the stream. At night, no one would have any idea that anyone was down there unless they were right on top of them.
The suspects in that case are Wilson Art Constanza-Galdomez, Edys O. Valenzuella-Rodriguez, Wualter Hernandez-Orellana, Jonathan Pesquera, and Asael Ezequie Gonzalez-Merlos. Each was charged by a grand jury with two counts of murder in the first degree (one as part of a conspiracy), assault in the first degree, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
As my colleague Marguerite Telford reported last Tuesday, ICE has lodged detainers on three of them: Salvadoran nationals Hernandez-Orellana (identified by the agency as "Wualter Orellana-Hernandez") and Constanza-Galdomez, and Honduran national Pesquera (identified by ICE as "Jonathan J. Pesquera-Puerto"). Each was unlawfully present, and entered the United States as minors.
Telford noted: "Two of the gang members flagged by ICE were previously in the custody of authorities after local arrests, but were released, and in one case this was due to a local sanctuary policy."
ICE explains that "Orellana-Hernandez" had previously been arrested on charges by the Prince George's County (Md.) Police Department in January, but while it had "lodged a detainer with Prince George's County Detention Center the same day, ... the detainer was not honored, and he was released."
I wrote about the failure of Prince George's County (a sanctuary jurisdiction since October 2014) to honor ICE detainers in a May 2019 post captioned "Maryland Officials Failed to Honor ICE Detainers for Two Subsequently Charged in Gang Killing", and its problems with MS-13 in a December 2017 post captioned "No Sanctuary for MS-13: 'They are preying on the communities that they are living in'". Prescient.
ICE had even more extensive experience with Constanza-Galdomez. He was arrested on local charges in Suffolk County, N.Y., in February 2018, and was taken into ICE custody the next month. An immigration judge set bond, and he was released in May 2018. In December of that year, he ended up back in Suffolk County custody, and ICE lodged a detainer. It was not honored, and he was released in April 2019. Not terribly surprisingly, he failed to appear at his next removal hearing, and was ordered removed to El Salvador in October 2019. He apparently did not leave.
In December, my colleague Dan Cadman described a "major sweep" in that county of "nearly 100 suspects affiliated with MS-13, who were charged with various violent crimes, drug trafficking crimes, and weapons crimes". While Suffolk County is not listed as a "sanctuary jurisdiction" on the Center's list, as ICE noted in November: "New York State policy severely limits state and local law enforcement cooperation with ICE and requires a judicial warrant to honor most ICE detainers." Such judicial warrants do not exist in the immigration context.
Ardon's murder was not the only criminal activity that Baltimore County Police claim the five were involved in. In my September 4 post, I noted (based on local reporting) that three of the five (Pesquera, Valenzuella-Rodriguez, and Hernandez-Orellana) had been arrested in June in connection with a stabbing in the Turner Station neighborhood of eastern Baltimore County of a 17-year-old male, in an incident with links to another slain woman (an 18-year-old) and an assault on that victim's 17-year-old sister. The Baltimore Sun reported that the male victim "said his attackers had been trying to recruit him into the MS-13 gang since December."
Having retrieved the charging documents in those cases, the alleged attack on that male occurred on the night of June 6 — eight days after Ardon's killing. And, also charged in that attack are Constanza-Galdomez and Gonzalez-Merlos.
Those two are charged with attempted first degree murder in connection with that crime, while the other three are charged with attempted second degree murder, and each is charged with assault in the first and second degree (separate charges), and kidnapping relating to the Turner Station attack. Again, that occurred eight days after Ardon's murder, and each was in Baltimore County Police custody as a result of their purported involvement in that later incident when they were indicted by the grand jury.
The statements of probable cause in the June 6 attack are mostly identical, but the ones relating to Constanza-Galdomez and Gonzalez-Merlos are more detailed. The victim alleged that he and his girlfriend were approached by a group of the suspects at the public library branch in the Patterson Park section of the city, and forced to get on a bus to eastern Baltimore County, exiting at Turner Station. It is about a 45-minute ride.
The victim "advised that he knew the males to be MS-13 members and he knew these subjects to carry weapons." Once at Turner Station, he stated, he was taken to a wooded area near the water. There, his cell phone was taken, and he was "beaten and stabbed multiple times" by five masked males he knew. At some point during this encounter, he alleged, his girlfriend "was taken to a separate location by 2 other known subjects."
She was found later in the area "suffering from multiple stab wounds to the body", and was taken to the Pediatric Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she received surgery for "life threatening injuries". I will not name her to protect her identity, but she was almost definitely the 17-year-old female described in initial local reporting.
Police obtained video footage from the library, where the male victim (I am not naming him, for the same reasons) identified three of the suspects, describing them as members of MS-13. He knew them as "Marco Saravia", "Ezequiel Gonzalez", and "Jonathan Josue". He must have known "Marco Saravia" pretty well, because he described the rose tattoo on his arm, and the "El Salvador" tattoo on his back.
"Marco Saravia" was arrested on June 11, and denied any involvement, telling the officers: "If you have evidence, why are you talking to me"? He had healing lacerations on his right hand, and the aforementioned tattoos.
That suspect was later identified (with the assistance of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)) as then-20-year-old Wilson Arturo Constanza-Galdomez (he has since turned 21).
"Ezequiel Gonzalez" was arrested the same day, and later identified (again, with HSI assistance) as 16-year-old Asael Ezequiel Gonzalez-Merlos. He admitted to punching the male victim in or near the library, and riding with "Jonathan Josue", "Marco Saravia", and the victim to Turner Station, where they met another male. He denied participating in the Turner Station assault, however.
When executing a search warrant at his residence, police found (among other things) a "Texas Defender Bond Arms" handgun and 42 rounds of Winchester .380 ammunition. Oddly, although HSI assisted in making the identification, ICE has apparently not placed a detainer on him, so his immigration status (if any) is unclear — although the HSI assistance is curious.
The victim was able to escape the assault, according to charging documents, and ran to a nearby convenience store where he asked for police and medical assistance.
The police began a search of the area and, according to the court records, found Pesquera thereafter. He allegedly told police that he was there "trying to meet up with his girlfriend", but could not find her and stopped looking. After the victim provided police Pesquera's name, he was arrested. When searched, police found a "Green knife with black blade" in his waistband.
Police kept looking, and found Valenzuella-Rodriguez (who had a laceration on his left leg), Hernandez-Orellana, and a third male sitting in front of a residence. The victim identified the two named suspects as responsible for beating and stabbing him, and they were arrested.
The charging documents state that police found "2 zip ties" in the front pocket of Valenzuella-Rodriguez, as well as one "blue knife" in Hernandez-Orellana's front right pocket. The third male was not identified. Pesquera, Valenzuella-Rodriguez, and Hernandez-Orellana agreed to speak to detectives, but "provided conflicting information as far as what they were doing in Turner Station and who they were with while" there, again according to the charging documents.
HSI assistance was not necessary in these cases — they were "identified positively through FBI fingerprints".
As for the 17-year-old female victim, Baltimore City Police have arrested 17-year-old Carlos Diaz for that crime, and charged him with attempted first-degree murder and other offenses. I will be following up with the city courts to obtain the charges in that case.
If all of the charges are correct, Baltimore seems to have a (rather significant) MS-13 problem. That does not even count the murder of 18-year-old Michelle Tenezaca, the same night in the city. No one has been charged in that case, although the cops "say the notorious MS-13 gang could be responsible" that crime, as well. Or, Daniel Cuellar, killed in Towson (the county seat) last year, in a case that I wrote about last September, where the assailants charged (all here illegally) were identified as MS-13 members.
Both Baltimore City and County claim to be interested in the welfare of its immigrant population, but as Greg Navano with DHS has noted, "the gang preys on members of their own community" — that is, other immigrants. So why not more reporting, why not more outrage?
The Baltimore Sun reported on Ardon's case when the suspects were charged, but since then — nothing. The paper has not reported on "MS-13" since that event, or at least not that I can find.
A year ago, the paper did a video interview with Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D). He was extremely evasive when asked whether MS-13 was active in Baltimore County, and asserted that he did not have "current data" on whether MS-13 presence was "new or whether they were expanding activity" (the former hardly a question on which the county executive would need "current data").
He may want to ask for some "current data" on MS-13 — quickly. He claimed that the county takes gang activity in general "very seriously", and asserted that overall crime in the county is "down" — a non sequitur in this context.
I could not find any statement made by the county executive about the 16-year-old Ardon, found dead in his jurisdiction. Nothing on his Facebook page on the day the then-Jane Doe was found, nothing on the day she was identified, and nothing on the day his prosecutors charged her alleged killers.
On Capitol Hill, we call this "weak sauce". Seriously — watch the video yourself, and you see a man terrified of making any potentially dispositive statement. The question is: Why? Because President Trump doesn't like MS-13 and has vowed to go after it, and he does not want to give credence to a political opponent's complaints — even at the cost of public safety? Because he does not care about someone from New York who went missing three times before she was found dead? Or is he as clueless as he appears?
It is not just "Johnny O", as the county executive likes to be called. I first found out that a dead girl had been found on Merrymans Trail from posts on Facebook from people who like to hike there, and who were concerned that crime had come to a previously safe place. Since then? Nothing.
Contrast this coverage with what would have followed had it been a local 16-year-old high school student who was found dead, from the upscale neighborhood where the killing took place. There would be wall-to-wall coverage. Daily updates. JonBenet Ramsey and Elizabeth Smart still haunt parents' nightmares, and routinely pop up in national news — years after their respective murder and abduction. "The Black Dahlia", Elizabeth Short, was found and identified in a similar manner to Ardon. She has her own FBI webpage, 73 years after her death.
A 16-year-old from Glen Cove, N.Y., who died in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the dark, far from her family, and purportedly at the hands of violent gang members (who would, police charge, turn around and try to kill another teenager eight days later)? A one-day story. But not to me.
Which brings me back to the makeshift memorial. It is still there, but the ink has started to run, and most of it is illegible. Still legible, however, is the following: "CriME is NOT ABOUT RACE—it's about hurting people. Can HappeN anywhere + anytime."
The first statement is true, but ambiguous. The race of the victim, or the perpetrators? Again, in either case, it is true. MS-13 largely preys on immigrant communities, but no one is safe. Imagine if someone had come upon the assault on Ardon as it was transpiring? I seriously doubt the offenders would have fled, or hesitated to "eliminate" a witness.
The second statement is true, to a degree. It is common knowledge that crime is more likely to occur in certain areas than in others. But that not only doesn't make it right — in fact, it makes it wrong. All residents of Baltimore — city and county — deserve to live in safety and dignity. That will not happen until leaders recognize that there are problems, and honestly address them. Maybe "current data" will help.
On his Facebook page on August 7 — 19 days before the grand jury handed down the charges in Ardon's case — Olszewski posted: "WE'RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET ... COVID-19 IS STILL WIDESPREAD". The irony is both sad and rich.
Gabriela Alejandra Gonzalez Ardon never left the woods, at least not alive. As for the rest of us? Until our leaders realize they are in the woods with her, we won't get out, either.
Baltimore County could start with the 287(g) program that Olszewski's predecessor and a bipartisan number of county councilmen managed to thwart. If they are really serious about stopping gangs, there is nowhere better to start than the place you find criminal aliens — in jail.
In that vein, Maryland's jurisdictions with sanctuary programs (Baltimore City, and Prince George's and Montgomery Counties by the Center's count, but jejune politicos like Olszewski aren't much help) could scrap them. Again, ICE wants alien criminals out of all communities — upscale, transitional, struggling, and immigrant. Sanctuary programs only protect criminals. Why? God knows, and if you ever push them on it (as I have), you will find a pool of ignorance (as deep as the ocean, and as wide as the heavens) about the harm sanctuary policies cause and the havoc they wreak on the communities those unctuous and sanctimonious officials claim to protect.
If a girl dies in the forest, does anyone care? I do, and I am not letting up.