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Gang Leader Shot to Death on Road to Reform

Ernesto Miranda, aka "Smokey," pictured in 2004 with his daughter Maybelline in front of his home outside San Salvador.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR
Ernesto Miranda, aka "Smokey," pictured in 2004 with his daughter Maybelline in front of his home outside San Salvador.

Ernesto Miranda, aka "Smokey," was an original member of the infamous Mara Salvatrucha street gang -- also known as the MS-13 -- created on the streets of Los Angeles and later exported to Central America.

A former soldier in El Salvador's long and bloody civil war, Miranda fled to Los Angeles, hoping to escape the violence. But he found plenty more in the streets of L.A.'s Pico Union neighborhood, where he banded together with other young Salvadoran immigrants to form what would become one of the city's most notorious gangs.

As part of a crackdown on the MS-13 gang, Miranda was deported back to El Salvador, and there he seemed to turn his life around. At 38, he was a doting father, studying law, working to keep kids out of gangs and advocating for greater human rights for prisoners.

All that ended Saturday night, when he was shot to death in the doorway of his home in a village outside San Salvador just hours after turning down an invitation to celebrate the prison release of an MS-13 gang member.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.