The boys had once been friends before MS-13 began recruiting one of them. Now, as other students streamed to class one April morning at William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, Md., the two teens squared off in the third-story bathroom — a fight captured by another student on his cellphone.
The MS-13 recruit threw a punch at his former friend’s head. His opponent ducked and tackled the 15-year-old, their sneakers squealing as they tumbled to the green tile floor.
“I like that,” someone shouted off-camera as the recruit tried to cover his head.
“That look like it hurt,” someone wrote under the video, which was uploaded to Instagram on April 19 and has been viewed more than 400 times.
Gang-related fights are now a near-daily occurrence at Wirt, where a small group of suspected MS-13 members at the overwhelmingly Hispanic school in Prince George’s County throw gang signs, sell drugs, draw gang graffiti and aggressively recruit students recently arrived from Central America, according to more than two dozen teachers, parents and students. Most of those interviewed asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs or being targeted by MS-13.
Although administrators deny Wirt has a gang problem, the situation inside the aging, overcrowded building has left some teachers so afraid that they refuse to be alone with their students. Many said they had repeatedly reported incidents involving suspected gang members to administrators, only to be ignored — claims supported by documents obtained by The Washington Post.
“Teachers feel threatened but aren’t backed up. Students feel threatened but aren’t protected,” one educator said. “The school is a ticking time bomb.”
The gang’s presence at Wirt comes at a time when the Trump administration has declared war on MS-13, and communities throughout the country are confronting a surge in MS-13-related violence.
Nearly a dozen parents told The Post that they were worried about gang activity at the school, which is 10 miles from the White House. Many said they were intent on transferring their kids. Several said they were scared their children would be killed.
One eighth-grader said she had been raped in the fall by a schoolmate in MS-13 — an attack that took place off school property and that she reported to police but then recanted out of fear of the gang. Prince George’s investigators concluded the report was unfounded, but the girl said she now lives in fear the gang will stab her as she leaves school.
Rhonda Simley, the principal at Wirt, declined repeated requests for an interview.
“The principal is aware of concerns about gangs in the community, but has not experienced any problems in school,” John White, a spokesman for the county school system, wrote in an email.
Prince George’s police, which have an officer stationed at the school, declined to discuss the allegations of gang activity.
“This is their house, so we’re going to defer to school leadership,” said police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan. “If school security isn’t telling us about something, then we don’t know.”
As of May 1, police had been called to the school 74 times this school year, according to a police tally requested by The Post.
Five students had been arrested for assault, drug possession and bringing a BB gun into the building, White said in an interview.
Although teachers estimate that there are only a dozen or so MS-13 members at the school, other students have banded together to resist them, leading to an arms race of sorts. Teachers said at least four knives and four BB guns were found at Wirt this year, although White put the tally at two knives and one BB gun.
“If someone doesn’t do something soon,” said the eighth-grade girl’s father, “there’s going to be a tragedy at that school.”