ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A U.S. Border Patrol agent was arrested in South Texas on Saturday in connection with a calculated killing rampage that left four people dead in recent weeks around the city of Laredo, the authorities said.
Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said police officers arrested the agent, Juan David Ortiz, early Saturday after a woman who claimed she had been abducted by Ortiz escaped half-clothed and sought help at a gas station in Laredo.
“We consider this man to be a serial killer who was preying on one victim after another,” Cuellar said. “Fortunately, he’s now been apprehended.”
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. Some are calling for an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was created in 2003. Customs and Border Protection, another agency in the Department of Homeland Security, has also come under fierce criticism.
Ortiz, 35, was found hiding in a truck in the parking lot of a hotel in Laredo, a city of about 250,000 people on the southwest border with Mexico and about 145 miles from San Antonio. He was arrested on suspicion of evading arrest. District Attorney Isidro Alaniz of Webb County said authorities were prepared to also charge Ortiz with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated kidnapping.
Alaniz said Ortiz is suspected of shooting the four victims, two of whom were identified Saturday as Melissa Ramirez, 29, and Claudine Luera, 42. Luera was found still alive but in critical condition Thursday near a stretch of Texas Highway 255, but she died at a hospital.
Another female victim remained unidentified and was referred to as Jane Doe, Alaniz said. The fourth appeared to be a transgender woman, but authorities referred to her as John Doe. Alaniz said he believed that all the victims worked as prostitutes in the Laredo area.
“At this time we believe the suspect was acting alone,” Alaniz said, describing Ortiz as a supervisory agent who had worked as a Border Patrol agent for a decade.
Alaniz said authorities tracked down Ortiz after a woman, also described as working as a prostitute, escaped after having been abducted. She claimed that the agent, a married father of two young children, had torn off her blouse before she could run away from his vehicle. She ran until she found a police officer at a nearby gas station.
She then described the suspect to the officer and provided details about his vehicle and his home, Alaniz said. He said the woman told authorities that she grew suspicious of the agent after asking him about the spate of killings.
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 1-year-old son.