Border agent held in deaths
Laredo-area police believe ‘serial killer’ preyed on prostitutes
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.”
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.