Idefonso Ortiz and Naxi Lopez
Authorities continue to investigate the kidnapping of two illegal immigrants who were reportedly held under threat of decapitation if their families didn’t pay ransom.
San Juan police investigators working alongside county, state and federal agencies were able to rescue two kidnapping victims Wednesday night in McAllen and arrested four men and two women.
San Juan police Chief Juan Gonzalez said the victims — a man and a woman in their 20s — had been crossed from Mexico approximately three weeks ago and were being held at various houses while the suspects demanded ransom from their family. The woman was 38 weeks pregnant when she crossed and recently gave birth.
The case was originally referred to San Juan police Wednesday evening by Pharr authorities after one of their off-duty officers, working as a security guard at an undisclosed place, was approached by one of the victims.
San Juan investigators worked alongside FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers, Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies and McAllen police to locate and rescue the immigrants. Investigators traced the victims to the 2000 block of W. Ebony St. in McAllen, where they rescued the victims and arrested a group of suspects. Two of the suspects, however, made their way to the attic, where they barricaded themselves.
“A less lethal device known as pepper balls were used,” Gonzalez said. “They were shot into the area and about 15 minutes later the two suspects surrendered themselves to U.S. Marshals.”
Gonzalez said the group that was arrested is just one cell that responds to an organized crime group in Mexico that had ordered them to carry out the kidnappings. Their job was to hold people against their will and extort as much money as they could from potential victims and their relatives.
The kidnappers used fear as their main weapon, threatening to torture and behead the victims, investigators said. They did not find weapons at the scene.
The families of the two victims reportedly paid the kidnappers more than $4,000, but investigators recovered $3,400 from one of the suspects.
Police believe there may be more victims throughout the Rio Grande Valley and continue to investigate.
“We believe there are more victims and we are working on targeting the individuals that are behind this,” Gonzalez said. “The investigation is still ongoing and we expect more arrests.”
When asked if he would classify this incident as spillover violence, Gonzalez stated that even though the case does have a connection to Mexico, he doesn’t consider the word spillover when dealing with crime.
“A crime is a crime and we are going to attack it as such,” Gonzalez said. “We know some individuals with ties to cartels have moved to the area and are running their organization from here. We are going to attack those individuals, arrest them and prosecute them. We are also going to go after their facilitators who help them launder their money and prosecute them.”
The six suspects were expected to face charges today.