LAREDO, Texas (Nexstar) — Authorities say the Customs and Border Patrol agent facing murder charges was preying on sex workers in the borderland.
In a Monday press conference, Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said each of Juan David Ortiz’s victims engaged in drug use or were sex workers, and that there “appears to be some history between Ortiz and this community.” Officials said he knew his victims were “harmless and “did not have a defense against him,” calling the killings over the last two weeks a “crime of opportunity.”
Ortiz, 35, was charged with the four murders, plus unlawful restraint and aggravated assault charges. His bond was set at $2.5 million.
A woman who law enforcement indicated could have been his next victim escaped on Friday and contacted a trooper with the Department of Public Safety she saw nearby, officials said Monday in Laredo as they detailed the timeline of events.
Webb County’s chief deputy Fred Garza indicated that Ortiz went home to arm himself, preparing to confront police, and in a coordinated law enforcement effort with local and state authorities, they tracked him down to a gas station. He fled, Garza said, and DPS took him into custody early Saturday morning.
“He was looking at confrontation,” Garza said. “Thank God that didn’t happen.”
“Perpetrator made a mistake and law enforcement capitalized,” he said.
Three of the victims were publicly identified Monday: Melissa Ramirez, 29, Claudine Anne Luera, 42, and Humberto Ortiz, 28. The fourth victim’s identity was not released Monday.
Ortiz “viciously shot them,” Garza said.
Investigators are working to figure out Ortiz’s motive, but said they did not believe he used his official position to influence his victims.
“The perpetrator in this case, just like in any case, is the one who decides when, where, how, and who he will be committing the crime against,” Alaniz told reporters. “The question that is out there is why did he do this? That’s part of our mission, is, why did he do this?
“It’s difficult to get into the mind of a killer,” Alaniz added, saying Ortiz “carried out these murders in cold and callous way.”
The border patrol chief, Carla Provost, said she did not want the actions of one individual to characterize how the 6,000 men and women with the agency in South Texas work.
Provost called the crimes “horrific,” and called Ortiz a “rogue individual.”
She said Ortiz was assigned to the Laredo area since 2009.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose congressional district includes Laredo, said in a statement over the weekend that he spoke to Customs and Border Patrol commissioner Kevin McAleenan to address the situation.
“We have agreed to work together on the hiring and professionalism of border patrol agents,” Cuellar’s statement read in part. “We spoke about how more steps need to be taken to make certain that people who want to become Border Patrol agents receive the appropriate psychological screening to ensure that no person who is capable of these type of actions is allowed to join or remain in the ranks. We also spoke about hiring more Professional Responsibility officers so that they can police their own.”
Chief Provost said, “It is of utmost importance to all of us that we hire the right individuals.”
Special Agent in Charge Juan Benavides, of the agency’s office of professional responsibility Houston field office, said Ortiz did not have any history that would come across as red flags for leadership.
“I believe he’s got one minor allegation — investigation against him, but nothing to indicate this sort of behavior,” Benavides said.
Ortiz is suspended indefinitely without pay, Provost said.