Corpus Christi Caller Times
Published 9:08 PM EDT Sep 16, 2018
The arrest of a veteran Border Patrol agent as a serial murder suspect in the shooting deaths of four people has rocked the border community of Laredo.
Laredo is often seen as a relatively small community, but its population has surged over the past 27 years, from 125,787 in the 1990 U.S. Census to 260,654 in 2017.
Webb County District Attorney Isidro R. “Chilo” Alaniz sought to drive that point home during an impromptu press conference on Saturday following the arrest of 35-year-old Juan David Ortiz on multiple counts of murder and other charges.
"Laredo's not the sleepy town that we all grew up in," Alaniz said. "These are crimes that are consistent with bigger cities — Laredo is a big city. We're seeing more and more serious crimes, (so) it can happen. People need to be careful. We need to look out for each other."
More: Updated: Border Patrol agent charged with murder
Ortiz, a 10-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is being held on four counts of murder, as well as one count each of evading arrest or detention, unlawful restraint — expose to serious bodily injury, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to online jail records. His bond is set at $2.5 million.
Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar, during Saturday's press conference, said an attempted kidnapping on Friday is what led authorities to Ortiz. His arrest capped what had been a 10-day period during which authorities found the bodies of four people who had each been shot to death.
A fifth person — a woman named Erika Pena — was nearly kidnapped on Friday, but was able to run from Ortiz and flag down a state trooper at a nearby gas station, according to an affidavit provided by the Webb County District Attorney's Office.
"Apparently, the suspect pulled out a gun on her and she was able to escape," Cuellar said during Saturday's press conference.
The affidavit identified two of the deceased as 42-year-old Claudine Ann Luera and 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez.
Ramirez's body was the first found, discovered on Sept. 4. She had been shot multiple times in the head, according to the affidavit. Ortiz reportedly told investigators that he picked Ramirez up in the area of San Bernardo Avenue on Sept. 3, then drove outside the city limits, according to the affidavit.
When they arrived at the location, Ramirez got out of the vehicle to urinate, at which point Ortiz used a handgun to shoot her multiple times in the head before driving away, according to the affidavit. A motive for the killing was not given.
Ramirez is survived by her two children, her mother, and two siblings.
According to the affidavit, Pena said Ortiz had picked her up on San Bernardo Avenue and took her to his home. Pena said that when she mentioned Ramirez's murder the week before, Ortiz "began to act weird," according to the affidavit.
When the two went to a nearby gas station, they began talking again about Ramirez's murder when Ortiz pulled a black pistol on Pena and pointed it at her, according to the affidavit. When she tried to get out of the pickup truck, Ortiz grabbed her shirt — but Pena was able to pull it off and run away, fleeing toward a state trooper who was refueling his patrol vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Luera was found Sept. 13 shot and left on the side of a road, but still alive. She died at a hospital later in the day, according to the affidavit. Ortiz reportedly told police that after picking up Luera on San Bernardo Avenue, they drove outside the city limits.
Ortiz stated that he pulled over after Luera "became nervous" and began accusing Ortiz of being the last person seen with Ramirez. When Luera got out of the vehicle, according to the affidavit, Ortiz also exited and used a handgun to shoot Luera multiple times in the head before leaving the area. A truck driver later found Luera's body, and she was transported to a local hospital where she died.
According to the affidavit, after Pena escaped Ortiz's vehicle at the gas station, he went on to kill two more people that same evening.
The identities of the other two victims have not been released by law enforcement officials. Those two individuals were only identified in the affidavit as "Jane Doe" and "John Doe," but both had been shot to death.
The Texas Tribune reported that one of the victims was a transgender woman. A single spent casing was found near the body, according to the affidavit.
Texas Rangers and investigators with the sheriff's department went to Ortiz's home and searched it, but Ortiz was not home. He was found just after 1 a.m. at a gas station near San Bernardo Avenue and Jefferson Street, but fled on foot when approached by state troopers, according to the affidavit.
He was found at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday hiding in a pickup truck at a hotel parking garage, according to the affidavit. Ortiz provided a "voluntary verbal confession" to all four murders and Pena's attempted kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to the affidavit.
"The county and city can rest assured that we have a serial killer in custody," Cuellar said.
Christina Ayala, 29, was at H-E-B grocery store shopping on Sunday night in Laredo, and said she and her family had heard about the killings.
The news was especially shocking to her because a Border Patrol agent is the one accused.
"That's somebody that you would actually go to for help or something," she said.
Ayala has lived in the South Texas city her entire life, and said she didn't expect something like the serial murders to happen there.
"It's not a big city like San Antonio, Houston, where you see that a lot," she said.
Laredo population growth
Source: U.S. Census Bureau