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The U. No agent in the 90 year history of the agency has been successfully convicted of a killing while on duty. Since Januaryat least people have died as the result of an encounter with a CBP agent. Many more have been brutalized, in some cases causing life-altering injuries. These deaths are an undercount.
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H e first began frequenting San Bernardo Avenue, in the border city of Laredo, in the late spring of He was in his mid-thirties, a strapping man, at least six feet tall and two hundred pounds. His black hair was neatly trimmed on top and shaved on the sides, like a military cut, and he had a stubble beard.
He drove a white Dodge Ram pickup that always appeared to be freshly detailed.
On any given night, there were six to ten women working the blocks. Whenever the man would pull up beside one of the women in his pickup, he would give her a smile. He told some of the women his name was Juan; with others, he went by David.
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Occasionally he would take a woman to his home in a well-kept subdivision in far north Laredo, explaining that his wife and children were out of town. After an hour or so, he would drive her back to San Bernardo, hand her some cash, and wish her, as she stepped out of his white Dodge, a good evening. One of the women would later tell a close family member that he was the most pleasant of all the men she met there. On September 2,the day before Labor Day, he arrived at the prostitute blocks in the late evening hours and spotted Melissa Ramirez, a year-old with thick black hair.
Ramirez had been working San Bernardo for nearly a decade. That night, she wore a light-colored tank top and black shorts. A deputy was sent to investigate.
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On the ground beside her were. This was not just a murder. It was an execution. The woman was transported to the county morgue, where she was identified through her fingerprints as Melissa Ramirez. A computer search showed that she had been arrested for prostitution on San Bernardo in A small, wobbly trampoline, a pink dollhouse, and other toys were scattered across the yard. An American flag was mounted on the front of the mobile home. Benavides, a kind, slightly stooped woman, invited the officers into her trailer, and they informed her that her daughter had been murdered.
According to Benavides, Ramirez had been a good student. But when she was a teenager, she was sexually assaulted by an uncle of one of her friends, and her life began to spiral. She dropped out of high school, became addicted to Xanax and other prescription drugs, and eventually turned to cocaine. She later became a mother, and though she doted on her children, she continued to be plagued by addiction into her twenties.
Sometimes, desperate for money to buy drugs, she would leave her kids with Benavides, catch the El Aguila Rural Transit bus from Rio Bravo to downtown Laredo, and walk up San Bernardo to the prostitute blocks. After a few days, Ramirez would return to the green trailer.
Ramirez would watch funny YouTube videos with the kids. Inevitably, though, she would return to the bus stop and head back to San Bernardo. Did she ever have problems with one of them? Benavides shook her head.
Benavides watched the investigators walk to their cars, and then she hurried across the street and collapsed into the arms of her neighbor, Alma Garza. She told Garza she had no money to pay for a funeral. The Texas Rangers and the detectives ased to the case headed to San Bernardo.
But no one they spoke with had seen Ramirez get into a vehicle the night before Labor Day. Nor did anyone remember Ramirez telling them about an encounter with a client going bad in recent weeks. Whenever she gets a tip about a crime in progress, an immigration raid, or anything else that interests her, she races to the scene, pulls out her cellphone, and livestreams the unfolding events, unedited, to herFacebook followers. Ramirez would smile and simply say that she was getting by.
Ramirez, Villarreal said, was such a sweet girl. Please be careful. Algo muy malo. Something very bad. But Laredo is far from a cowboy town. And it recently surpassed Los Angeles as the largest port in the entire country. Certainly, much drug trafficking and human trafficking is routed through Laredo.
Yet for all the talk among politicians about border crime, Laredo, like most border cities, is a reliably safe place to live, with lower crime rates than Dallas and Houston. SinceLaredo has rarely seen more than twelve murders a year, and those are almost always solved after routine investigations, with arrests coming quickly.
Unsurprisingly, the brutal slaying of Melissa Ramirez incited a lot of chatter in Laredo law enforcement circles. Border Patrol. It coordinates the efforts of every local, state, and federal agency in the region that is involved in border security. The investigators knew that the Border Patrol had installed automated cameras throughout the web of rural ro outside Laredo in hopes of catching undocumented immigrants and drug mules.
If a vehicle belonging to one of the three men who knew Ramirez had been photographed, the investigators would have a prime suspect. When investigators interviewed him, the officer explained that he was looking at property in the area, and he was cleared. A Mexican citizen, driving across the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge at night and then crossing back into Mexico before the sun rose. A wholesaler from another Texas city who came to Laredo to buy goods at the import shops.
She was dressed in a pink sweater and blue jeans. She had been shot once in the head, and next to her body was a.
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Their father was Hispanic, and their mother was Scottish. But she eventually became addicted to heroin. By she was working on San Bernardo. Luera said she was scared and wanted to leave her life as a prostitute. But the pull of heroin was too strong.
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Within a few days, Luera was back on San Bernardo, and a few days after that, she was dead. News spread through Laredo that a madman was on the loose and that he was using San Bernardo as his hunting ground. Villarreal began monitoring San Bernardo in her Blue Demon, and she begged the women she saw to go home. But most of them told her there was no way they could leave. They needed the money.
Villarreal, distraught, made the women promise not to get into vehicles with strangers. She urged them to carry Mace or a switchblade. He and his team waded through photographs from Border Patrol cameras positioned near the road where Luera had been found.
But Ortiz soon reported back that none of the automobiles were owned by men on the list of possible suspects. His duties done for the day, Ortiz walked out of the intelligence center to the parking lot, got into his vehicle, a white Dodge Ram pickup, and headed home. She liked him, in fact. He had told her he was a federal law enforcement officer, but she had never seen him in uniform. That night, she would later say, he was happy and talkative.
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She got into his pickup, and he drove her to his home, explaining that his wife and children were out of town for the weekend. Once inside, they talked for a few minutes as she smoked a cigarette. He stopped smiling. Why, he prompted, would she ask him about a murder? He was standing directly behind her.