A kidnapping victim who was being held for ransom — bound, and held at gunpoint — was shot and killed during an FBI raid in Houston, authorities said.
Bureau spokeswoman Christina Garza told the Associated Press that the victim, identified in court documents as Ulises Valladares, was fatally struck by gunfire from an FBI agent during an early-morning bust Thursday.
Garza did not confirm the victim’s name and told ABC affiliate KTRK that she could not provide many details about the incident, saying only that during “an FBI operation” a man was “fatally injured.”
“The system failed,” Conroe Police Chief Philip Dupuis said during a news conference, according to the AP. “Whether it was accidental or not, the man is not going home to his family.”
Three people were arrested on felony charges related to the raid: Nicholas Chase Cunningham, 42; Jimmy Tony Sanchez, 38; and Sophia Perez Heath, 35. All three were charged with aggravated kidnapping. Cunningham and Sanchez were also charged with aggravated robbery, according to court documents released by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
The scene started to unravel Wednesday morning at a home outside Houston.
Valladares’s 12-year-old son later told police that he heard a knock at the door as he was getting ready for school. When his father answered it, two men tackled him to the ground, according to a criminal complaint.
The boy told investigators that the two men bound him and his father with gray duct tape, then ransacked their house — searching drawers, sorting through mail and stealing some electronics.
The boy said the men told Valladares that his brother owed them $8,000.
“After about 20 minutes of ransacking the house, the suspects placed a black Nike sweater over the father’s head and escorted him outside,” according to the criminal complaint. “The suspects told the child to not call police or they would kill his father. The suspects told the child they would drop his father off around the street corner.
“The child advised he waited 10 or 20 minutes before he located some scissors, cut the duct-tape off his hands, and ran outside to find his father.”
His father was not there.
The child ran into a neighbor, who contacted authorities, according to the complaint.
The Conroe Police Department said in a statement that while authorities were at the home, the brother arrived to speak with police and “at one point, received a phone call from an unknown person who demanded money for the victim’s safe return.” Conroe police then contacted the FBI for assistance.
According to the criminal complaint, Valladares’s brother, who was identified in the documents as Ernesto Valladares, answered the call “and a male speaking in Spanish asked if the person answering the phone was Ernesto.”
“The known male told him to listen and this would be easy,” according to the complaint.
The complaint stated that the caller told Ernesto Valladares he was with “El Cartel Del Golfo” — the Gulf Cartel in Mexico — and demanded $20,000 ransom for his brother’s safe return. Authorities called the suspect a self-admitted gang member but said the Cartel claim was likely a ploy to get ransom money.
Ernesto was able to talk to Ulises, who said that he was fine “but to gather up the money and not call police,” according to the criminal complaint.
Following a subsequent phone call, FBI agents tracked cellphone signals to a motel, where they found Cunningham and Sanchez. The suspects directed authorities to a different house where the victim was being held.
There at the house, the authorities found Heath, according to the criminal complaint.
It’s unclear what went wrong during the raid at the house. The criminal complaint does not specify how an FBI agent shot and killed Valladares. It states only:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Tactical Response Unit made entry in to the house and located the kidnapped victim, Ulises Valladares. The victim’s hands were bound with gray duct-tape. Ulises was transported to the hospital from the scene and later died.
The FBI said in a statement to ABC News: “FBI was conducting an operation at a home in the 7300 block of Elbert Street in Northeast Houston. During the course of the operation, an individual was fatally injured.”
Garza, with the FBI, did not immediately respond to requests for comment by The Washington Post, but she told the AP that the agent who shot the victim has been put on administrative leave during an investigation.
Cunningham and Sanchez are due in court Jan. 31, and Heath will make her court appearance Feb. 1, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.