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Officials: Border Patrol agent accused of serial murders in Laredo prepared for a shootout with police

September 18, 2018

LAREDO - The desperate hunt for Juan David Ortiz, the veteran Border Patrol agent charged with murdering four Laredo sex workers, began shortly after 9 p.m. Friday when one of his would-be victims jumped from his truck and ran.

It ended five hours later, a few blocks from where it began, when a sheriff’s SWAT team found an unarmed Ortiz hiding in the back of a pickup truck on the third level of a motel garage.

In the hours between, police say, Ortiz killed two people and went to his home just off Loop 20 to prepare himself for a shootout with police.

“He had numerous weapons. He was loading up all his weapons, thinking that the DPS (Department of Public Safety) was going to confront him there. Thank God, it didn’t happen,” said Federico Garza, chief deputy of the Webb County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators said Ortiz fled after Erika Peña escaped shirtless from his truck and ran to a nearby DPS trooper. He had taken her to his house Friday night, where she questioned him about the Sept. 3 death of Melissa Ramirez, who was 29. The criminal complaint said Ortiz became nervous and Peña vomited in his yard before he drove away with her.

Inexplicably, early Saturday Ortiz returned again to San Bernardo Avenue, where he had already picked up Peña and two other sex workers that night.

At about 1 a.m. Saturday he was spotted by police, but evaded arrest and ran, prompting an intense search.

When he was found about 2:30 a.m. in the parking garage, he attempted to trick the deputies into shooting him, Garza said.

“He was trying to commit suicide-by-cop. He was trying to use his phone like a weapon, but it didn’t happen,” he added.

In a press conference Monday at the sheriff’s office, local and federal officials explained what they know so far about the case.

They also anguished over how an unremarkable senior Border Patrol agent suddenly “went rogue,” becoming an alleged serial killer who took his victims out of town and shot them in the head.

Other victims of the alleged killing spree were Claudine Ann Luera, 42, who was killed on Sept. 13, and Humberto Ortiz, 28, one of the two people killed Friday night. The other one remains unidentified.

“We are trying to get into the mind of this killer, to figure out why he did this,” said Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz.

“We know he carried out these crimes in a cold, calloused fashion,” added the district attorney, who said Ortiz had apparently gained the confidence of his victims, all sex workers, from prior contacts.

“There appears to have been a history between Ortiz and this community … a community that is vulnerable, defenseless and has no voice,” he said.

In confessing to the crimes, Ortiz also revealed a hostility toward the prostitutes who are found nightly along a tattered stretch of San Bernardo Avenue, north of downtown.

“I know he mentioned a dislike for the community. Whatever the anger was, we don’t know,” Garza added.

Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost, who came from Washington, D.C. to consult with her agents, said the killings were committed by just one “rogue individual” in her agency, which is one of the largest federal law enforcement arms in the country, with 20,000 officers.

“I’m here to support my men and women, on whom it obviously has had an extreme impact. I’m sickened and saddened by the events that occurred,” she said.

Provost pushed back against questions from reporters that suggested the rapid growth of the Border Patrol in recent years has resulted in unqualified candidates becoming agents.

“There has been no lowering of standards. We do extensive background checks,” she said.

Officials emphasized that Ortiz, who is being held on a $2.5 million bond, did not commit the crimes he is accused of while on duty, in uniform or using a federal vehicle. It was unclear if his service weapon was used in the killings.

Ortiz, 35, joined U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Laredo in 2009 after serving in the Navy. He rose to the level of a supervisory intelligence agent. Along the away he earned a masters degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

County records show that Ortiz, who is married, took out a $240,000 mortgage with his wife, Daniella, in December for their home in an upper middle-class neighborhood on Laredo’s west side. Officials have not released any information about his wife.

The previously owned a home in San Antonio from 2007 until 2015.

His personnel file revealed only one minor infraction, an official said Monday.

Alaniz said Ortiz may face a capital murder charge when all the facts are known.

According to a research by the Project on Governmental Oversight, Customs and Border Protection has had a chronic problem with corruption, with at least 13 employees arrested since Donald Trump became president.

Among the recent charges are bribery, theft, drug smuggling and misuse of top-secret government data, according to the review, which was based on government documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Going back to 2004, more than 200 CBP employees have been charged with corruption. More than 120 of those accused resigned, and another 54 were removed by the government.

The study also disclosed crimes of violence by CBP employees including rape and murder.

Many of the problems arose after a massive expansion that began soon after the CBP was created in 2003. With President Trump now vowing to add another 5,000 border agents, critics worry that a rise in corruption may follow.

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