Bor­der agent held in deaths

Laredo-area po­lice be­lieve ‘se­rial killer’ preyed on pros­ti­tutes

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - STAFF AND WIRE RE­PORTS

A U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol agent ac­cused of killing four peo­ple and ab­duct­ing a fifth was ar­rested in South Texas on Satur­day in con­nec­tion with a cal­cu­lated killing ram­page that ap­peared to tar­get pros­ti­tutes work­ing in the Laredo area, au­thor­i­ties said.

Webb County Sher­iff Martin Cuel­lar said po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rested the agent, 35-year-old Juan David Or­tiz, early Satur­day af­ter a woman who alleged she had been ab­ducted by Or­tiz es­caped half­clothed and sought help at a gas sta­tion in Laredo.

Four vic­tims were found shot in the head in a ru­ral area near U.S. 83.

“We con­sider this man to be a se­rial killer who was prey­ing on one vic­tim af­ter another,” Cuel­lar said. “The county, the city can rest as­sured we have the se­rial killer in cus­tody.”

The case is the lat­est in a se­ries of re­cent grue­some episodes in­volv­ing Bor­der Pa­trol agents and comes at a time when pro­test­ers and some Demo­cratic law­mak­ers are seek­ing to curb the ac­tions of im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, another agency in the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, also has come un­der fierce crit­i­cism.

Or­tiz, a 10-year Bor­der Pa­trol agent, was found hid­ing in a truck in the park­ing lot of a Laredo ho­tel. He was ar­rested and jailed in

Webb County, charged with four counts of first-de­gree mur­der, one count of ag­gra­vated as­sault and one count of un­law­ful re­straint.

The first vic­tim was Melissa Ramirez, 29, the mother of two. Her body was found Sept. 4 off Texas 255.

The sec­ond vic­tim was Clau­dine Anne Luera, 42. A mother of five, she was found barely alive at about 7 a.m. Thurs­day near mile marker 436 of Texas 255, about a half-mile east of U.S. 83. She died at a hos­pi­tal later that day.

Or­tiz picked up Erika Peña on Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to an af­fi­davit. When they stopped at a gas sta­tion, she be­gan talk­ing about Ramirez. Or­tiz later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he pulled out a pis­tol and pointed it at her. She said the agent, a mar­ried fa­ther of two young chil­dren, had torn off her blouse be­fore she could run away from his ve­hi­cle. She ran to another gas sta­tion where she found a De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety trooper and asked for help.

She then de­scribed the sus­pect to the of­fi­cer and pro­vided de­tails about his ve­hi­cle and his home, said Webb County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Isidro Alaniz.

Af­ter Or­tiz was in cus­tody, he gave in­ves­ti­ga­tors a state­ment de­tail­ing the shoot­ings, the af­fi­davit said.

Af­ter Peña ran away, Or­tiz told in­ves­ti­ga­tors, he picked up two peo­ple whose names weren’t re­leased — the af­fi­davit iden­ti­fied them as “Jane Doe” and “John Doe.” He al­legedly killed both, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit.

He al­legedly picked up Jane Doe on San Bernardo Av­enue, drove out of the city lim­its and told her to get out of the car at the Webb County In­ter­change Over­pass, at mile marker 20 on I-35. He shot her mul­ti­ple times in the head and left her body there, the af­fi­davit stated.

Or­tiz told au­thor­i­ties he then picked up John Doe, also on San Bernardo Av­enue, and again left the city lim­its, stop­ping near mile marker 15 on I-35. The af­fi­davit said he told John Doe to get out of his truck, shot him once in the back of his head, and left his body be­hind the gravel pits at the mile marker.

Jane Doe’s body was found Fri­day night; the body of John Doe was found af­ter Or­tiz told of­fi­cers where to look, the af­fi­davit said.

“At this time, we be­lieve the sus­pect was act­ing alone,” Alaniz said.

An­drew Mee­han, as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner for pub­lic af­fairs at the Bor­der Pa­trol, said the agency was fully co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the case. He said it was the agency’s pol­icy to not com­ment on de­tails of a cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion but added, “crim­i­nal ac­tion by our em­ploy­ees is not, and will not be tol­er­ated.”

Or­tiz’s ar­rest came on the heels of a case in April in which au­thor­i­ties in Laredo ar­rested Ron­ald An­thony Bur­gos Aviles, also a su­per­vi­sor for the Bor­der Pa­trol, and charged him with killing a woman with whom he was ro­man­ti­cally in­volved and her 1year-old son.

State Rep. Richard Peña Ray­mond, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents Laredo, said Satur­day that he knows many Bor­der Pa­trol agents in the re­gion. He was quick to as­sert that the al­le­ga­tions against Or­tiz were not re­flec­tive of the Bor­der Pa­trol as a whole.

“That could have been a sher­iff’s deputy,” Ray­mond said. “It could have been a P.D. It could have been a state trooper. It wasn’t. It’s a Bor­der Pa­trol agent, and I don’t think that one thing had any­thing to do with the other. If this is true, do you re­ally think that there’s some­thing they could have done to have pre­vented this guy from hav­ing the mind­set to kill four peo­ple? Usu­ally, th­ese guys have some is­sues that no amount of train­ing would have ad­dressed.”

Ramirez’s mother, Maria Cristina Be­na­vides, said her daugh­ter, a na­tive of Laredo, had been caught up in drugs. Be­na­vides had cus­tody of her daugh­ter’s two chil­dren, a 7-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, at the fam­ily home in Rio Bravo, and her daugh­ter stayed with them sev­eral days a week.

“She was al­ways smil­ing,” Be­na­vides said. “She loved her chil­dren, and when she was here, she took good care of them.”

Luera’s sis­ter, Co­lette Mire­les, said she also had been ad­dicted to drugs and had been liv­ing on the streets for the past five years. Fam­ily mem­bers had cus­tody of her five chil­dren.

“She was a happy-go-lucky per­son grow­ing up,” Mire­les said, adding that her older sis­ter had a “con­ta­gious laugh” and al­ways was free-spir­ited.

“Sadly, she was an ad­dict,” Mire­les said. “Her life took another turn.”

Danny Zaragoza / Laredo Morn­ing Times

Webb County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Isidro Alaniz said au­thor­i­ties have charged Juan David Or­tiz, a Bor­der Pa­trol agent, with four counts of mur­der and one count of ag­gra­vated kid­nap­ping.

Or­tiz

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