MySpace.com helped N.J. police track shooting suspects
Web site corroborated suspect's MS-13 gang ties
He found nothing under the name of Rodolfo Godinez, the 34-year-old man police have described as a "principal player" in the murders of three college students on Aug. 4.
But the profile of his 16-year-old half-brother, Alexander Alfaro, was packed with clues. It listed the boy's nickname, "Smokey," and the names of dozens of friends who had sent him messages. It seemed to confirm reports that Alfaro is a member of a Latino street gang called MS-13: It included the name of an MS-13 clique (Guanacos Little Cycos Salvatruchos) and pictures of Alfaro throwing gang signs. The page also verified a crucial clue from early in the investigation: The boy had fled New Jersey.
The detective spent the rest of Thursday trying to draw out the online friends. That night, the FBI in Washington, D.C., shared an informant's tip that the little brother was in in Virginia.
Peppers, remembering the MySpace page had listed friends from Virginia, asked the FBI to hold off until he and other New Jersey members of the task force could get there. Peppers, Daniel Potucek of the U.S. Marshals and Lydell James, the lead Newark homicide detective on the case, jumped in a car at 3 a.m. Friday.
Once they arrived in Virginia, the FBI told them the informant had seen Alfaro in Woodbridge, Va., hanging out with local members of MS-13. Alfaro was with another gang member from New Jersey, nicknamed "El Guapo."
"Guapo?" Peppers said he asked. "I know Guapo."
Peppers went back to the MySpace list of friends.
Peppers showed FBI agents El Guapo's pictures, which included some tattoos that matched the description provided by the informant.
By Friday night, Peppers and others tracked El Guapo to a Salvadoran restaurant in Woodbridge called Bongo's. El Guapo wouldn't tell them anything useful, so Peppers pressed his partners to raid the seven or eight houses they had been staking out.
As they were preparing for the raids, James got a tip from another informant: Godinez was in nearby Prince George's County, Md., where a black car was waiting to pick him up. The tipster said the car would leave at 2 a.m. Godinez would meet Alfaro and the two would head to Texas, then Mexico, then El Salvador, birthplace of MS-13.
At 1 a.m., investigators rushed to an apartment house in Oxon Hill, Md., about a 45-minute drive from Woodbridge, and raided a first-floor apartment with about 10 adults and teenagers inside, including several MS-13 members getting tattoos.
Godinez was in the crowd, but there was no sign of Alfaro.
Peppers and his partners called authorities in Woodbridge and told them to go ahead with their planned raid on a townhouse at Grist Mill Terrace. At around 1:45 a.m., they caught Alfaro walking out the back door. He didn't put up a fight.
Back in his Newark living room on Saturday, hours before he was finally able to sit down to his first hot meal in more than two days, Peppers said citizens should know Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Police Director Garry McCarthy and Police Chief Anthony Campos had let the fugitive team do whatever they needed to catch the two brothers.
"We'd do this for any citizen of Newark, not just those in a high-profile case," Peppers said. "This happens all the time. Hopefully, this shows that your police officers and public servants are really out there trying."
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