Their immigrant parents are here, in the United States and the children live thousands of miles away, in Central America.
Gang members in Central America are allegedly targeting those children, threatening them with harm if they don’t come up with cash.
WUSA9 learned those children are being targeted because the gangs assume their parents are making money here in the United States and sending most of it home to Central America. WUSA9's Andrea McCarren draws back the curtain on allegations of gang recruitment, violence and extortion.
"If they don’t join, they threaten to kill them or their families," said Carmen.
“Carmen” says a gang in Central America is aggressively trying to recruit her 11-year-old son. He lives there with his grandmother.
"My son is very scared."
She says gang members have beaten him and stolen his bike. According to Carmen, a gang leader even killed a man in front of him.
"He first shot the person and then he took a machete and cut his testicles and he opened him up and took his heart out and started eating the heart," she said.
Carmen says her 11-year-old son witnessed this.
Carmen lives in the D.C. area, but is so terrified of gangs that she’d only agree to an interview if we disguised her identity, promised not to disclose her home country or the specific gang that’s tormenting her son. The same gang that raped his 13-year-old sister.
"She was coming out of school and there were a group of men in a car and they came out and they had a towel and they put the towel over her face," she said.
The teenager told her mother the gang members drove her to an abandoned house in a remote area, where a friend was already held captive.
"They tied her up to a chair. Her friend was trying to escape," Carmen said. "Her friend was screaming, asking for help and she was shot."
She says her daughter's 13-year-old friend was killed.
We have no way of verifying Carmen’s account, but we have spoken with numerous gang experts. They confirm this type of brutality is common among gangs, with no relief in sight.
"The gang member said that if she said anything, if she reported what happened, they will kill her," said Carmen.
Through tears, Carmen describes how her family in Central America pays a weekly fee to the gang. She says it’s the price of survival.
Carmen’s teenage daughter was able to flee Central America and is recovering here in the United States. Now, Carmen hopes and prays that her 11-year-old son will make it through the immigration process.
WUSA9 asked Carmen what she thought would be a possible solution to the gang epidemic in Central America. She thinks the only hope would be sending in American troops to eradicate the problem.