U.S. Border Patrol agent Juan David Ortiz has confessed to killing four people and is currently in jail being held on a $2.5 million bond. Citizens in Laredo reflect about the crimes and about Ortiz, who authorities call a serial killer.
The shops in downtown Laredo are a few blocks away from the border. Residents here like Miguel Sanchez, who works in a T-shirt printing shop, are still in disbelief.
“It was shocking. You don’t really hear that type of story here in Laredo often,” he said.
Carla Provost, the national chief of the Border Patrol, says she wants to make clear that the actions of Ortiz aren’t a reflection of the entire force.
“These are horrific crimes, and this was one rogue individual,” Provost said.
Provost came from Washington D.C. to talk with the 6,000 members of the border patrol sector in South Texas after the arrest. Border patrol officials said there were no previous instances of misconduct in Ortiz’s records.
“(There was) nothing in his background that would have alerted CBP or have indicated that Mr. Ortiz was capable of anything like this. Nothing disciplinary,” said Juan Benavides, a special agent in charge for the Border Patrol's office of professional responsibility.
Ortiz isn’t the first border patrol agent to be arrested for murder in Laredo. Last year, agent Ronald Anthony Burgos-Aviles was arrested for killing a woman and her 1-year-old son.
Near the downtown bus station, Laredo resident Alfredo Trinidad says the Border Patrol needs to look inward.
“They have to take real serious this problem,” he said. “They have to check those workers. They have to do something,”
The Border Patrol still has the support of resident Mary Helen Rojas Espina. She said the actions of one don’t represent all agents.
“There’s good people amongst them, right? People shouldn’t be judgmental in that you blame all of them for what he did,” she said in Spanish.
Investigators are determining if Ortiz’s charges should be upgraded to capital murder.
At the Webb County Sheriff’s office, Chief Federico Garza provided a timeline of Ortiz’s murders.
“All the victims were defenseless, and at one point he was able to gain their trust and then viciously shot them,” Garza said.
Melissa Ramirez was killed on Sept. 3. Claudine Luera on Sept. 13. Humberto Ortiz and an unidentified person were killed Friday night or Saturday morning. Humberto Ortiz was transgender and identified as a woman, according to the Webb County District Attorney’s office. The last victim’s identity was withheld pending notification of family members.
All four victims were shot in the head and left on the side of the highway. A fifth woman escaped from Ortiz Friday night and alerted police. Ortiz was arrested at a hotel.
“What he was trying to do was, he was trying to commit suicide by cop. He was going to try to use his phone to make it look like a weapon,” Garza said.
Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz says Ortiz knew his victims through the sex worker and drug use communities and had been in contact with them several times.
“People want to know why did he do this, and we are seeking to try to put the pieces together to try to figure out why and how come he targeted this certain community within Laredo,” Alaniz said.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules