tv This Is Life With Lisa Ling CNN October 9, 2021 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT
hardly a day goes by without hearing news of killings. >> two huge explosions happened at the boston marathon -- >> now with the latest on the golden state killer -- >> terrorized california for decades. >> 17 people killed in a mass shooting at a florida high school. >> we immediately want to know who did it. but behind every violent offender, there are family members who must live with their loved one's crimes. tonight we're meeting two children of notorious killers. >> your father was responsible for so much carnage. >> i spent so much of my life wondering why he chose the path he did. >> what's it like to be the
child of a murderer? >> it was just unimaginable. to go from thinking that your father is prince charming, to realizing he's the bogeyman, and the bogeyman's real. >> what, if anything, can they tell us about what motivated their fathers to kill? >> i couldn't put together how a loving father could also be capable of such terrible things.
you want it touched up a little bit? >> go ahead and look at me. >> this is jen carson. at 43 years old, jen has returned home to care for her mother, with whom she shares a close bond and a dark history. >> recently i was helping clean out my mom's house. and i found a bunch of girl scout patches. i also found some pictures. >> jen's childhood started off like many others, with a mom and dad who loved her. >> those were my parents, jim and lynn, and that's me. my mom was teaching and my father was staying home with me. >> and there's your dad doing your hair. >> yeah, i remember him doing my hair every morning. there would be braids and pigtails and he'd brush my hair. >> how would you describe your relationship with your dad as a kid? >> in those early years, we had
a relationship that most people would have with their mother, perhaps. we were incredibly close. he just was my whole world. i think that's around the time that he graduated from college. my parents met in the counterculture movement of the late '60s. and throughout the first years of their marriage, they were really focused on their activism. ♪ well i gotta get the world off of my back ♪ ♪ or pretty soon i'm gonna crack ♪ >> for jim and lynn and thousands of young americans, the '60s was a time of civil unrest. to protest war and experiment with mind-bending psychedelics. trippy drugs that jim refused to abandon once he became a father. >> soon after we moved to
arizona, when i was about 3, his talk about a revolution was getting serious. he was talking about a violent overthrow of the government, and his behavior became very erratic. he was getting very physically aggressive with my mother. and so she decided to leave. >> reporter: jim and lynn separated and began sharing custody of their daughter. when a new woman entered their lives. a wealthy socialite from scottsdale named susan barnes. >> when i think about my relationship with my father, i very much see it as before susan and after susan. the moment she entered the picture, i don't remember any affection, i don't remember that kindness. it was like that connection we had was being lost. >> who was susan? >> susan claimed to be some type of yogi. she lived this posh country club lifestyle.
but when the '60s came along, she just got swept up in it. she met my father at a party. everyone was dropping acid. and he introduced himself and said, hi, my name is jim. and she said, no, your name is michael. and so from then on, he went by michael. he moved into her townhouse, and that was it. my first visit, they were high and passed out. i remember trying to wake them up because i was hungry. >> neglect soon turned to physical harm. >> during one of these visits, i was asking my father to rub my back. and she said, i'll rub your back, i'm going to get the demon out of you. she scratched my back until she scratched it raw. i actually came home with nail marks all the way down my back. >> how old were you? >> i was 4, about to turn 5. >> lynn realized her child was
in danger and alerted police, child services, and jim's own family. >> time and time again, my mom was written off as a bitter ex-wife. one of the challenging things about raising this red flag was who my father had been. he came from an upper middle class family. he had had such a successful college career. how that individual could become someone who is scary and dangerous was just really not something that his friends or family could understand. >> fearing the worst, lynn sought advice from a legal clinic. >> the attorney said, you need to pack up, you need to take your daughter somewhere safe, and you need to disappear. and so we left arizona.
and for almost five years, we were living in hiding. >> at what point did you realize, my dad is a bad man? my dad is a dangerous man? >> the day i found out he killed a bunch of people. instant eraser from maybelline new york. our concealer does it all. in a click... conceal. contour. correct. easy to blend. instant eraser. only from maybelline new york.
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after trauma, that feeling goes into overdrive. sensing her ex-husband was a danger to her child, jen fled with lynn to southern california. >> when you first came here you were essentially in hiding? >> yeah. we were renting rooms and sleeping on couches. we were kind of semi-homeless. >> this place, while it looks like paradise, marks a difficult chapter in lynn's life. >> this is where my mom was working. she had to take very low-income jobs. you know, we were just very poor. i often couldn't get to a doctor to get my asthma medication, i didn't have glasses. it was an incredibly difficult and throughout, i kept building up my father in my memory. he became a prince in my mind. i was living this horrible
existence, and he was going to come save me. >> and you still loved him? >> i still loved him. yeah. >> so, jen, where are we going now? >> we're headed to my old elementary school. this is where i was a fourth grader when my mother came and told me about his arrest and crimes. >> when was the last time you were here? >> 35 years. i have just avoided coming over here because it is completely intertwined in the worst day of my life. >> how does it feel to be here right now? >> i don't know. it's strange.
i mean, we're standing where my mom gave me this life-changing news. >> do you remember what your mom said to you that day? >> yeah. i remember every second of that moment. she said, i told you that daddy was really sick and that's why he couldn't see you anymore. and daddy got more sick, and he hurt a bunch of people. then i looked up and i said, are the hurt people dead? she said, yes, and that's when she started crying. >> that's the day your life changed forever? >> yeah. >> during the years jen and her mom were in hiding, jen's father married susan and embarked on a very dark path. in 1983, along california's highway 101, a man named john hellier picked up two hitchhikers. 24 hours later he was dead. his passengers, michael and
susan carson, had killed him. it wasn't their only murder. after authorities arrested the carsons for john's murder, michael wrote a letter from jail to the "san francisco chronicle" making his own demand. >> my father said they would confess to two more murders if they could have a live press conference. >> 35 years ago, investigators granted their wish. during a taped press conference, the carsons admitted to two additional murders, describing the brutal violence they had inflicted on their victims. in 1981, they stabbed 23-year-old karen barnes 13 time, bludgeoning her to death with a frying pan. in 1982, they killed 27-year-old clark stevens, shooting him three times and burning his body. they claimed everyone they had killed were witches, and that god had told them to do it.
jen had seen some clips from the press conference over the years but we're about to watch one she's never seen before. >> evil doesn't create -- >> my heart is beating from hearing her voice. i need to go take a break. just take a minute. it freaked me out. >> you literally haven't heard her voice since then? >> no. >> you haven't seen them? >> my heart started racing. it just made me really overwhelmed. i know that voice, but those things he's saying are so bizarre and disturbing. and then hearing her talk in this setting with such a chipper voice makes my heart race. >> when serial killers target
their victims, we all want to know why. on-screen, appearances can be deceiving. >> charismatic, smooth talking, law school educated, ted bundy. >> there's always much more going on than meets the eye. >> he fits the classic profile of the sadistic personality disorder who takes pleasure in brutalizing other people. >> so many people ask me what i think caused my father and stepmother to become violent. i just don't think that there are simple answers to these questions. i think serial killers are generally sociopaths or psychopaths. they lack human empathy and moral clarity of believing what is right or wrong. some of them also have another mental illness. with my father, it is bipolar 1. on top of that, his drug use was incredibly long term.
that's where there's a dangerous combination. it was almost the perfect storm. >> a downward spiral jen's mother, lynn, witnessed firsthand. >> the onset of his mental illness started during our marriage. >> how do you think his drug use affected him? >> oh. it just multiplied everything 10 times. he became increasingly violent towards me. >> when you started to recognize those signs that really scared you, you started telling a lot of people. why didn't anyone listen to you? >> because -- well, they listened, but there was nothing that could be done. >> i have chills as you're talking about this because this happened in the '80s. we've had shooting after shooting, serial killings. and in many cases people recognize signs and report these people but nothing is done. and then lots of people die. >> time after time, multiple
teachers, the school counselor, i mean, we have situations where multiple kids are reporting a problem. and adults are saying the same thing that my mother heard in 1978. we can't do anything until he kills someone. that should not be the case. >> how did you find out that jim had actually killed someone? >> my father had called and said that he was a suspect in, i think, three murders. it did not surprise me. i knew he did it. >> before he killed those people, i felt a pure, unconditional love. now it's hard to feel and find that love under the grief i feel for his victims. >> as a little girl just 8 years old, jen was blind-sided by the father she thought she knew. >> it completely changed who i
was, how i thought about myself. i remember thinking, i have monster dna, that eventually i would hurt someone, maybe i would kill someone. i became very frightened. i started sleeping with knives and scissors under my pillow. i would barricade my door at night. i went into a really, really severe depression. >> depression that drove a little girl to confide in her diary and write her father a letter. >> in this letter i very much was processing everything that was happening to me. dear jim, i pray that someday you may feel some remorse for your sins of murder. you chose to hurt and be a threat to our society. i pray that i may do the opposite of what you have done. although you caused me pain and
the fear that i would grow up to hurt people as you did, i hold no hatred or anger towards you, only hurt and sorrow for the lives that were lost. >> did you ever give that to him? >> no. >> you don't think jim is in there anymore? >> no. he's this guy now. >> this was incredibly difficult to deal with 30 years ago, and it will be difficult to deal with tomorrow. but i no longer hide. i no longer keep it a secret. >> today, jen is very open about the struggles in her life. she inherited her father's mood disorder and takes medication to manage her anxiety and depression. >> would you say your entire childhood was defined by what your father did? >> absolutely. what he had done and who he had become loomed over me. the incredible energy it took to
lie and keep this a secret, the shame and sadness i felt for these victims. and this fear that i was doomed. >> when did you stop feeling that way? >> i don't think that has stopped. >> jen's life was forever changed by the actions of her father. i'm about to meet another whose world was also turned upside down by a man who became one of the first jihadi terrorists in america. >> i had been dealing with my father's legacy for such a long time. i grew up, and i realized that wo rkforce overnight out of convenience, or necessity. we can explore uncharted waters, and not only make new discoveries, but get there faster, with better outcomes. with app, cloud and anywhere workspace solutions, vmware helps companies navigate change--
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a q&a with me! join for free on the xfinity app. our thanks your rewards. this is 34-year-old zach ibrahim. once again, he's leaving town. he has moved more than 30 times and even changed his name. a nomadic life that began when he was just a little boy. in 1983, zach was born in pittsburgh to an american schoolteacher and an egyptian industrial engineer. elsayid nosair.
how would you describe your childhood in those early years with your father? >> i have a lot of really wonderful memories of my father. he was very funny, very caring. growing up muslim, he would wake me up every morning to make the first prayer of the day. we would have time together and he would talk to me and he felt very much a part of our lives. >> in pittsburgh, the family regularly attended mosque, until a young woman the family had taken in stepped forward, alleging a crime. >> she accused my father of sexual assault. he was never charged and people seemed to believe my father, but it devastated his reputation in the muslim community, just the accusation. >> seeking a fresh start, the family moved from pittsburgh to new jersey and into a new diverse community. working as a maintenance man, sayyid commuted to the city. but a serious injury dealt yet
another blow to his ego. >> he was electrocuted, and he couldn't work because of his injury and we were on food stamps. he became very withdrawn and started spending more and more time reading his koran and becoming more introverted. the afghan war was raging at the time and muslims from all over the world were traveling to afghanistan tofying the soviet union. >> around the world, public demonstrations of outrage against the soviet invasion of afghanistan mount. >> my father very much wanted to go, to be a part of something greater than himself after take these knocks to his self-esteem. >> zach's father found that sense of purpose right here in jersey city. >> actually, there's the mosque right up there. that's where my father started spending more and more time and less time with our family. >> as a kid, zach often attended mosque with his father. it's here they would listen to a
preacher named omar abdel rahman, a provocateur known as "the blind sheikh." >> the blind sheikh came into the muslim community in new jersey and began espousing this hatred for anyone whether didn't follow his very strict interpretation of islam. we would listen to him give sermons about hating jews or hating non-muslims, for anything from a person's religion to their ethnicity, certainly sexuality, things like that. he was not espousing something that the majority of muslims followed. >> extremism really resonates with people who are vulnerable, not just people who believe in islam, but any religion. >> i think what resonated with my father the most was that there was a place in this world for men like him. to have such an important person say that you have value and that you can contribute something probably was very intoxicating to my father.
i certainly remember recognizing a change in him. we were coming back from friday prayer and i asked him, when did you become such a good muslim? he said, when i came to america and saw everything that was wrong with it. >> alarmed by her husband's hateful rhetoric, zach's mother sayyid to move out of jersey city and into the suburbs, hoping to distance him from the mosque, an effort that failed. >> the night of november 5th, 1990, my mother was sitting in the living room watching television, was interrupted by breaking news. >> news of murder that was widely reported. >> attempted assassination tonight of the mayor. >> a gunman in new york city last night assassinated myer ka han that. >> shot and killed in new york city.
>> meyer kahane was the founder of the jewish defense league, of the ultra right nationalist group emerging in the u.s. his death astonished the country, but it was the image of the gunman that stunned zach's mother. >> authorities say he is 35-year-old sayyid nosair. >> i was sleeping in my bedroom, and my mother came flying in and said we had to leave. we all piled into my uncle's car, and he drove us to his apartment in brooklyn. and there were already two detectives waiting there. >> zach's father was now in jail being charged with murder. >> i couldn't put together how i could have a loving father that could also be capable of such terrible things. >> as a child, zacha new little about the man his father was accused of killing, rabbi meyer kahana. to others, he was controversial, radical, and often made
headlines. >> i want to make it clear to those dogs that are standing there, there is no such thing as an arab village in the state of israel. it as jewish village that is temporarily inhabited by arabs. >> after you visited your father for the first time in prison, what did he say to your family about what he had done or what he didn't do? >> he said he was innocent. that's all i needed to hear. but even if he did what he did, there was a way for me to justify the assassination by saying, well, kahana was atmosphere a bad man and he deserved it. >> at 7 years old you're impressionable and you can't possibly believe your father could do anything wrong. >> yeah, well, you know nothing. and you assume that everything your parents tell you is the truth and is in your best interests. and like i said, it wasn't the man that i knew. >> once your father's image started to appear in the news, how did that affect you? >> it was a very scary time. my mother did everything she could to shield us. but it was difficult.
people wanted revenge against my father for killing meyer kahana. there were threats made. they wanted to kill his family for killing their leader. >> at trial, with no reliable eyewitnesses, the jury acquitted sayyid of rabbi kahana's murder. but seeking the maximum penalty sentenced him 7 to 22 years for gun possession, coercion, and assault. >> when it came back not guilty for the kahana assassination, there was a huge sense of relief in our family because it was like, okay, our father is going to come home someday. >> that never happened? >> no. no, it didn't. like a regular movie night. but if you're a kid with diabetes, it's more. it's the simple act of enjoying time with friends, knowing you understand your glucose levels. ♪ i'm alphonso, and there's more to me than hiv. there's my career,... my cause,... my choir.
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♪ oh what a wonderful world ♪ february 26, 1993. in new york city, it began as a regular day, but at 12:18 p.m., it would make history. >> i was home sick from school that day. i was watching television and it was interrupted by breaking news. >> pandemonium at new york's world trade center after a powerful explosion less than three hours ago. >> there were people being brought out of the building, smoke billowing out of the doors
and windows, soot covering people's faces. >> before 9/11, there was another terrorist attack on the world trade center. the 1993 bombing claimed six lives that day, and a federal investigation would reveal 10 men had conspired to plan it. one of them was zach's father, sayyid. nearly three years before the bombing, he was put in prison following kahane's murder. but that didn't stop him from conspiring with the blind sheikh and others to bomb the twin towers. at trial, a federal grand jury charged sayyid with judicious conspiracy and under a federal racketeering law retried him for kahane's murder. he was found guilty and sentenced to life. >> when you did realize your father had a role in this thing you had seen on television, how did you feel? >> the first thing i thought was, there is no excuse for this. innocent people are killed.
as a young kid, the main thing for me was just that our family would never be together again. >> did you realize at the time that he was conspiring to commit something catastrophic? >> no. we had no clue. his actions were such a betrayal to my family. my mother divorced my father not long after the bombing. the idea that our family might someday be together again was tossed out the window. >> overcome with shame and condemned by outsiders, zach and his family once again began a new round of moving and hiding their identity. >> i spent a lot of time feeling abandoned by my father. it's not an exaggeration to say that i was bullied every single day, and i was getting into a physical fight every other day. school was torment for me.
i just felt so alone, like there was just no one in the world who could understand. my father would call from prison. but eventually i just started to think, you know, if he really cared, maybe he should have stuck around. that is eventually what led to me ending communication with him. >> at such a low point in his life, zach turned inward like his father, harboring hate for anyone he thought to be different. >> i was dividing people into different groups based around nonsense about people's skin color or sexuality or religion. i had been raised to believe there was a natural animosity between muslims and jews. >> what was the turning point for you? >> i turned 18 and started working at an amusement park where i was interacting with all kinds of different people. and it made me realize much what was i'd been taught was a lie. >> in this magical place, a place that draws all walks of life, zach found the one thing he had been missing for so long.
>> people who i judged and who i hated showed me kindness. the first time i made a gay friend. i mean, it was clear i did not approve of his lifestyle, and yet he showed me kindness. i decided i didn't want to perpetuate the same cycles of violence and hatred my father advocated for. >> do you think at a certain point there was an expectation for you to continue in your father's path? >> i'm certain of that. >> as a little boy, zach remembers the twin towers and playing with his father right here along the waterfront. >> that's my siblings and i standing in the park with the world trade center behind us. when i look at this picture, i wonder if it's a fun family photo, or if he was, you know, taking it as some kind of surveillance. it's hard for me to look back and figure out what his goals were. before my father went to prison, i would often spend time with
the men that were involved in the wtk bombing. my father started taking me to a shooting range. one of the proudest moments i recall was how happy he was i hit the target. my uncle turned to the other man and in arabic said, like father, like son. they all laughed heartily at that. >> at the time you heard that, like father like son, how did it make you feel? >> proud. who doesn't want to be like their father? especially at that age. >> you went to the shooting range to have fun like so many americans do. but for your father, the objective was different? >> yeah, i believe his intention was to train me to go fight in afghanistan. people ask me, what do you think your life would have been like if your father never went to prison? i don't know where my life would have ended up, but in many ways i think him going to prison saved me.
>> today, zach continues to avoid his father and considers himself an eighth least. zach may have lost his faith, but along the way he found his ultimate path. with his best friend, sharon, he started a nonprofit mentoring program for young refugees. >> we have to go over the anti-bullying initiative. >> yeah. we hope to help communities that have experienced extremist violence to make sure they understand, their choices matter and that there is something better. my father felt it was perfectly reasonable to plant a 1500 pound bomb in a building and kill whoever happened to be within its radius that day. i have the fortunate perspective of being able to look at what he did and realize just how wrong it was. i can forgive my father for how his actions affected me.
but i can't forgive him for the harm that he has done to so many other people. >> do you love him? >> i love the man that i thought he was. but love is something that is built on a lot more than just blood. in life there are people who, for one reason or another, inspire us. those influencers whom we've always followed, who teach us that who we are is our greatest inspiration, who are proud of where they come from
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the last time jen saw her father was the one time she visited him in prison more than 20 years ago. at the time, he showed no remorse. and today she refuses to speak with him. for years, jen thought the carsons would never get out. but in 2014, a new california state program allowed elderly inmates the possibility of parole. in 2015, michael and susan received hearings. susan was denied, and michael will be seeing the board again in 2020. >> do you believe that over 60 years old, your father is still a danger to society? >> i believe that if he were released that he would be harmed or he would harm someone else, yeah.
when my father was given a parole hearing, it just spun me out. i was frightened, you know? i felt unsafe. >> to keep the carsons behind bars, jen has connected online with each of the victims' families, to fight their parole. today, she's meeting the family of the carsons' last victim in person for the very first time. >> john offered a ride to my father and susan, and susan stabbed him repeatedly, and then my father shot him. >> why do you want to meet the family members of the people your father killed? >> i want to tell them that i'm so deeply sorry for the loss of their brother, and i'm hopeful this could help bring them peace. >> in a suburb of san diego, we're about to meet john's siblings, danny and diane.
>> hey. nice to meet you. >> nice to meet you finally. >> thank you for welcoming me into your home. i have always just wondered if you were okay, you know. i of course wanted to tell you i'm so sorry you lost your brother and you lost him so violently and that you don't have him here with you. >> thank you for that. appreciate that. >> but you don't have to apologize to us. >> yeah. >> it wasn't your fault. >> i mean, it must have -- this must have been a very heavy burden for you to bear. >> yeah. did you know that the killers had kids and one had a young child, 8, 9 years old at the time? >> i had no idea, no. it wasn't until, gosh, just before the parole hearing. >> i found out that the parole board had not notified the hilliard family. >> yeah.
>> nor had made any attempt to find them. so that's when i sent them a message, because they have a right to know. >> yeah, i was actually kind of touched that someone, you know, a family member would reach out. >> what was your brother, john, like? >> he was a good kid. but he was tenderhearted. >> yeah, it was really kind of sad to see >> do you all feel any closure right now? just having had the opportunity to meet each other face to face? >> yeah. >> there's a time for grieving and a time for letting it go and moving on. i forgave a long time ago as much as you can forgive. you won't forget your brother, you won't forget what happened. >> your brother deserves justice and we'll fight the next parole hearing. we're united and this is what we believe is right. >> so what did you think of
that? >> i thought it was incredible. they're really amazing people. like really just incredible. >> i really felt it was a really powerful moment just being present for that. i felt so moved by their forgiveness. i heard john's family say they forgive your father. do you forgive him? >> my mom says that forgiveness is a journey. it is not a destination. we both talk about how we're not there yet. i haven't but i'm working toward that. yeah. que me va a frenar. ♪ que me va a frenar ♪ ♪ si acele.. ♪ ♪ y si acelero no me paran ♪ ♪ el viento pega en mi cara ♪ ♪ si acelero no me paran ♪ ♪ el viento pega en mi cara ♪
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children of murderers. they wonder if there's something wrong with them. how could their parent do this? will they end up lying their parent? >> jen has spent much of her life holding on to secrets and shame. today she's letting go. as a trained counsellor with nearly 20 years experience, jen is speaking up and fighting stigma. >> children of highly violent prisoners have complex grief,
depression, school fair you're, substance abuse, and you know what? i am really open. i am mentally ill. i have a mental illness. is that scaring you? it shouldn't. >> when we can talk about that like other people talk about diabetes, then we can move forward. i am not ashamed of being mentally ill. i didn't put that stigma on me. somebody else put that on me. >> today's crowd is somewhat unique. while some have gathered out of interest, others connect more. >> my grandfather's grandson is 9 years old and he doesn't know. i don't even know where you begin. how do you tell him? >> just as the mother-in-law of someone in prison for murder, how does that affect you? >> my biggest fear is him buying
into that. that that he will most definitely follow into his father's footsteps. i don't want him to feel that he has no choices. you do have choices and you make your life what you want it to be. you have that power. >> the power of choice. it's a message that zach carries with him everywhere he goes and today is no different. in new york, he's about to take his turn at shaping future global policy by speaking to an international audience. >> as an adult, i decided i was going to use what my father did as a means to bring attention to greater causes. i want people to realize that what is in me is inside all of them. that our choices matter. that the implications of our
beliefs matter and understanding them matter. >> ladies and gentlemen, here's zach ibrahim. >> this is model united nations. thousands of high school students from all over the world have gathered here to learn how to become future leaders and now zach has their full attention. >> i was 7 years old when my father went to prison and there's not a day that goes by that i don't wish he had chosen a peaceful path. instead, he exposed me from a very young age to the intolerance and radical nature of extremism. yet i stand before you all today with this simple message. that no matter the level of violence you've been exposed to, it doesn't have to define your character. in all of us is the ability to change our paths. >> jen and zach's stories are
very, very different but strangely enough, they are very similar. they are both very protective of their mothers and they're both very passionate about their mission. in many ways, their childhoods and adult lives have been defined by what their fathers have done but they have chosen to spread messages of life and not death. >> being a child of a killer is a silent burden but jen and zach are no longer hiding. >> in the past i was trying to atone for my father's crimes and now i know i cannot bring back his victims. i can't pay this debt. it is not my debt. >> of course. thank you. >> there are people out there who would not listen to me if it weren't for the fact that my father committed horrible crimes. as the son of an extremist, i have the insight and the
experience and the least that i can do is use that to try to can do is use that to try to make the world a better place. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com ms 13. it is a name you might have heard and you need to remember. over a decade ago, i covered a gang considered the world's most dangerous. >> every single block is marked. >> ms 13 was born on the streets of los angeles. started by war refugees from el salvador trying to protect themselves from established l.a. gangs. >> did you kill him? >> yeah. >> they came to document a look, shaved head, baggy clothes and brazen full body tattoos, proclaiming their