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Border Patrol agent implicated in 4 murders tried to commit ‘suicide by cop,’ authorities say

Webb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Fred Garza spoke on Monday about Juan David Ortiz, a Border Patrol agent who has been charged with four counts of murder. (Video: Reuters)

Juan David Ortiz, fleeing police after a series of killings in Laredo, Tex., wanted to die, authorities said.

He positioned himself in a hotel parking garage as a SWAT team closed in early Saturday morning. He had left a firearm behind earlier.

But he had a cellphone, authorities said, that he wanted to look like a gun.

It didn’t work. Ortiz, 35, a Border Patrol agent, was arrested without incident in the slayings of four women in a two-week period, including two women who were killed after another woman escaped his truck Friday night and alerted police, authorities said.

He wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” Webb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Fred Garza said in a Monday news conference, as the Texas town reckons with how a law enforcement officer tasked with securing the nation’s borders allegedly preyed on four women.

“We’re certain we have the right individual,” Garza said, describing Ortiz, who Garza said confessed to the four killings under questioning Saturday and provided information about where investigators could find the last two victims.

Ortiz killed Melissa Ramirez, 29, on Sept. 3, he told authorities, according to an arrest affidavit. Ramirez was a mother of two young children, the Laredo Morning Times reported.

“I hurt a lot. All I want is justice. I want that guy to die in jail for taking the life of my daughter,” her mother, Maria Cristina Benavides, told the paper.

Ten days later, Ortiz said, he killed Claudine Ann Luera, 42, according to the affidavit.

On Saturday, authorities released the name of a third victim: “Humberto Ortiz, 28, was deceased,” Garza said at a news briefing. Ortiz went by Janelle, her mother told NBC Houston. She is not related to the Border Patrol agent.

The last victim, killed in the same period, has not been publicly identified.

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Ortiz is charged with four counts of murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint. He is being held on a $2.5 million bond.

“It’s difficult to get into the mind of a killer,” Webb County-Zapata County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said Monday. “Ortiz carried out these murders in a cold and callous way.”

Alaniz previously told The Washington Post that Ortiz’s actions fit some parameters of a “serial killer” — he shot all four execution-style in the head after forcing them out of his truck in rural parts of Webb County, outside the city limits of Laredo, authorities allege. The city is about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio.

Garza said Ortiz has a “dislike” of the sex-worker community and appears to have targeted his victims deliberately after gaining their trust. “He knew the victims, and the victims knew him, some of them,” Garza said.

Carla L. Provost, the chief of Border Patrol, called Ortiz a “rogue individual” and not representative of the thousands of agents who work in the region.

Authorities said he had one minor allegation on his record but nothing else that indicated worrisome behavior. It is unclear whether Ortiz used his service weapon or government resources to track victims, Garza said.

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Police were already investigating the killing of Ramirez and Luera when a woman approached a state trooper about 9:14 p.m. Sept. 14. The Post is withholding her name.

Ortiz had pulled a gun on her after she brought up Ramirez, whom she knew, the woman told investigators. She escaped his truck and ran to the state trooper for help.

An alert was issued to officers to be on the lookout for Ortiz, Garza said. But in the next few hours before his capture, Ortiz later told police, he killed two more women.

First, Ortiz returned home to load several firearms, he told authorities. “He was looking at a confrontation,” Garza said.

He then picked up a woman in Laredo, drove her outside of town and shot her in a remote area of the county, Garza said. He returned to Laredo to repeat the process, but it is not clear whether Janelle Ortiz was the third or fourth victim.

After the fourth slaying, Ortiz returned to Laredo, police said.

Officers found Ortiz after 1 a.m. Saturday after he stopped at a gas station, Garza said. He left his gun in his truck and fled on foot. He was captured at 2:30 a.m., when police found him hiding in a hotel parking garage, where he unsuccessfully attempted to draw the gunfire of the arresting officers, Garza said.

Ortiz was defiant and uncooperative under questioning, at least at the start, Alaniz said.

Detectives asked him to do “the right thing,” Alaniz told The Post. Ortiz asked for the handcuffs to come off, and the circumstances behind the killings began to trickle out, the district attorney said.

Ortiz described a place along a highway where they could find Janelle Ortiz, behind some gravel pits soaked in rain.

Ortiz told police he shot the woman once in the head.

Janelle Ortiz’s body was found there, along with a single spent shell casing.

This story has been updated.

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