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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mexico Investigating US Teen's Death as Homicide

By Mark Walsh
The Associated Press

Kempner High student Elisabeth Mandala

Monterrey, Nuevo Leon -  The body of a Texas high school student reported missing by her mother has been found in Mexico and police are investigating her death as a homicide, authorities said Wednesday.

Elisabeth Mandala, 18, and two Mexican men were found dead Saturday in a crashed pickup truck near Mina, a town in the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon.

Autopsies revealed all three died from severe blows to the head and body, and officials believe the crash was staged given that they found a large rock near the gas and brake pedals and believe it could have been used to accelerate the vehicle, said a spokeswoman from the Nuevo Leon state Attorney General's Office. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with agency policy.

The motive for the killing was unknown. The relationship between Mandala and the two Mexican men was also unclear.

Mandala, a senior at Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston, was last seen April 27 leaving her mother's home. The mother reported her missing around midday Saturday, Houston police spokesman Victor Senties said.

Mandala had been a stripper and wanted to smuggle immigrants, according to a missing persons report her mother filed with Houston police, the Houston Chronicle reported on its website Wednesday. The report quotes Paula Benitez Mandala as describing her 18-year-old daughter's activities, the paper said.

The three victims were found in a truck with Texas license plates. It had been hit by another truck, but the collision was considered too minor to have caused the deaths, the spokeswoman said.

The driver of the other truck, Fermin Garcia, told police that the pickup was traveling erratically and swerved into his lane, the spokeswoman said. Garcia, who received minor injuries in the crash, said he slowed but could not avoid clipping the pickup. He is not a suspect.

The two men killed were taxi driver Luis Angel Estrella Mondragon, 44, and merchant Dante Ruiz Siller, 38. They were friends from Cuauhtitlan, near Mexico City, but police did not know why they were in Monterrey with Mandala, the spokeswoman said.

A representative of the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey reclaimed Mandala's body with authorization from her father, the spokeswoman said.

Kempner High School principal Troy Mooney wrote a letter to parents saying Mandala had died while traveling in Mexico over the weekend, but it did not contain further details.

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