By Julia Wallace and Liz Teitz San Antonio Express-News
LAREDO, Texas — A 10-year Border Patrol agent accused of killing four people and trying to kill a fifth in less than two weeks was arrested early Saturday after he ran from Texas troopers who confronted him at a gas station in the central part of this border city.
Juan David Ortiz, 35, was behind bars in Webb County Jail, charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of unlawful restraint.
He was found hiding in the parking garage of a hotel just off Interstate 35 about 2 a.m., officers said. He was arrested without incident.
“The county, the city can rest assured we have the serial killer in custody,” Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said at an impromptu news conference.
According to affidavits released late Saturday, the woman he is alleged to have kidnapped and tried to kill escaped Friday night and helped authorities find Ortiz.
All four victims were found in the same general rural area near U.S. 83 in the northwest part of Webb County. All four were shot in the head; one was a transgender woman. District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said all had worked as prostitutes.
The first victim was Melissa Ramirez, 29, the mother of two. Her body was found Sept. 4 in the 300 block of Jefferies Road near the intersection of Texas 255, also known as Camino Colombia Road. An affidavit stated that Ortiz said he killed her Sept. 3.
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.
Friday, the affidavit stated, Ortiz picked up Erika Peña.
When they stopped at a gas station, she began talking about Ramirez. Ortiz told investigators that he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at her. They struggled inside his truck and she ran out, making it to another gas station where she found a Department of Public Safety trooper and asked for help.
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 killed both.
He 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 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 the man 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.
In a statement, Andrew Meehan, assistant commissioner for public affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said his agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General were fully cooperating with all investigators.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the victims’ family and friends. While it is CBP policy to not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation, criminal action by our employees is not, and will not be tolerated,” Meehan said.
He referred questions about the investigation to authorities in Webb County and to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Ramirez’s mother, Maria Cristina Benavides, said her daughter, a native Laredoan, 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.”
At least three other Border Patrol agents have been arrested in Laredo this year.
In April, Border Patrol agent David Villarreal, 32, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman, tampering with physical evidence and official oppression. An arrest affidavit alleged that he threatened to deport the woman if she did not have sex with him. He told Laredo police that the sex was consensual, the affidavit stated. He said the woman had become “affectionate” toward him.
Villarreal remains on suspension without pay, the Border Patrol said.
On April 9, supervisory Border Patrol agent Ronald Anthony Burgos-Aviles, 29, was accused of killing his alleged 27-year-old lover and the couple’s 1-year-old child.
Police initially said the bodies of a woman and child were found in the brush by Bristol Road and Allen Drive, near Father Charles McNaboe Park, on April 9.
The Border Patrol agent who reported that he had found the woman’s body, Burgos-Aviles, later was found to have known her and was identified as the main suspect, authorities said.
He was indicted on two counts of capital murder June 27. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Burgos-Aviles has been suspended indefinitely without pay.
Also in April, agent Luis Enrique Aranda, 24, was arrested in the pawning of his government-issued night vision equipment after he reported it as stolen to his supervisors.
He was served with an arrest warrant in Eagle Pass, charging him with state jail felony theft, punishable by up to two years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.
District Attorney Alaniz noted Saturday that “Laredo is not the sleepy town that we all grew up in.”
“This is the type of crime consistent with bigger cities,” he said. “Laredo is a big city. We are seeing more and more serious crimes. It can happen. People need to be careful. We need to look out for each other, report suspicious vehicles and suspicious behaviors.”