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Tattoos, online boasts link suspects in Coronado High students' killings to Sureños gang

June 17, 2017 Updated: June 17, 2017 at 10:24 pm
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In Gustavo Marquez's own words, he is a "soldado" - Spanish for soldier.

A defunct Facebook account - he seems to have created two others since - declares his affiliation with the Sureños, a gang based primarily out of Southern California that pledges allegiance to the Mexican Mafia and that police have said is active in Colorado Springs.

Marquez, 19, is accused of 13 felonies, including two counts of first-degree murder after deliberation.

At least half of the 10 people arrested in the March 12 slaying of Coronado High School students Derek Greer and Natalie Cano-Partida appear to claim some connection to the gang through either social media posts or tattoos.

Whether they are members of the Sureños - Spanish for "southerners" - is unknown. All arrest documents have been sealed.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has released no information about a possible motive in the killings or if investigators suspect it is gang-related.

Marquez was arrested March 19, one week after the teens' bodies were discovered. Just days after Marquez's arrest, on March 25, four more suspects - Alexandria Marie Romero, 22; Diego Chacon, 19; Joseph Arthur Rodriguez, 18; and Marco Antonio Garcia-Bravo, 20 - were rounded up.

Investigators have not said what led them to the suspects or if they knew each other.

However, several of the suspects were friends on what appear to be their Facebook and Instagram pages. Marquez was at least an acquaintance of one of the victims, Cano-Partida, having friended her on Facebook.

Social media has come to rival tattoos as a way for law enforcement to identify gang members, said Mike Martinez, director of the criminal justice program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

And despite the public nature of social media, it's unsurprising to see profiles littered with evidence of gang affiliation, he said.

"It's bold because that's their statement: 'This is who I am,'" Martinez said. And when people self-identify as gang members, it's unlikely that they're simply wannabes, he said.

"If I'm claiming to be a Sureño," Martinez said, "and I'm on social media saying, 'I'm this, I'm that, I'm part of the Sureños, and then I go to prison and nobody knows who I am or how I became a Sureño, (either) I prove that I am, or if not, if I've got the SUR 13 tattoos, you burn it off, you cut it off or you die.

"It is not to be taken lightly."

Describing the occupation of "soldado" on Facebook, Marquez wrote in Spanish, "Siempre que representa ese trapo azul y tatuajes mi cara," meaning, "Always representing that blue cloth and tattoos on my face."

He has "Santa Muerte," Saint Death or Sacred Death tattooed on his face, a mugshot shows. He also has the word "southern" somewhere on his body, inmate records show.

Many gang members pledge allegiance to Santa Muerte, although references to the saint are most likely to be seen among Sureños, Martinez said. It's not necessarily a marker of being a member of a particular gang, he said.

Information about inmates' scars and markings was available for a brief time on the El Paso County Sheriff's Office website, but is not available now. A subsequent request for the information was denied by a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, citing a gag order in place in the double-homicide case.

Romero, Chacon, Rodriguez and Garcia-Bravo face first-degree murder charges in the killings.

Angelita Prado, 22, Breeana Dahlberg, 20, Endo Velarde, 18, Carlos Meza, 28, and Alander Jordon Wilson, 43, face lesser charges ranging from second-degree kidnapping to attempting to influence a public official to possession of a weapon by a previous offender. Velarde has also been arrested in a third killing, the shooting of Oscar Navarrete-Moreno, 18, in 2016.

Inmate records show several others have tattoos that can be connected to the Sureños. Garcia-Bravo has the word "sur" - Spanish for south - between his fingers and the number 13 - with "666" between the one and the 3 - somewhere on his body.

The number 13 represents M, the 13th letter of the alphabet - a symbol of the Sureños' allegiance to the Mexican Mafia, according to an article in Police, a law enforcement magazine. Chacon has a 13 (pool) ball tattoo, inmate records show.

"Tattoos and graffiti depicting '13, 'XIII,' 'X3,' 'trece' (Spanish for 13) and '3ce,' are all Sureño identifiers," the article states.

Marquez, Garcia-Bravo, Velarde, Chacon appear in Facebook photos wearing blue bandannas, a marker of the Sureños. On an Instagram account that appears to belong Rodriguez, four of the five posted pictures are of him in a blue bandanna. A photo of him and another male bears the caption, "Soldados." A selfie is captioned, "Kickin back keepin it SUR up 113%"

On one of Chacon's photos, someone commented "SUR^^^" and he responded, "SUR GAnG OR DONT BAnG haa."

"Bandannas of a specific color will also signify who you're associated with," Martinez said.

The Gazette was unable to find social media accounts for Meza, Prado or Dahlberg.

Sgt. Jason Ledbetter, who was in charge of the Colorado Springs Police Department's Gang Unit, told The Gazette in November 2015 that the Sureños were the largest local gang, with around 120 members.

The Gang Unit was dissolved in 2016, part of a departmental reorganization that Chief Pete Carey attributed to a "critical" staffing shortage.

Marquez, Romero, Chacon, Rodriguez, Garcia-Bravo, Prado, Dahlberg and Meza and remain in the El Paso County jail, inmate records show. Garcia-Bravo is in jail on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

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Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198

Twitter: @lemarie

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