A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent in Texas suspected of being a serial killer had prepared numerous weapons to confront law enforcement officers as they closed in to arrest him and had hoped to die by "suicide by cop," officials said Monday.
The suspect, Juan David Ortiz, 35, knew all four of the victims he allegedly killed and had gained their trust over a period of time before luring each of them to the outskirts of Laredo, Texas, and shooting them in the head, Chief Federico Garza of the Webb County Sheriff's Office said during a news conference.
While investigators are still trying to determine why Ortiz allegedly went on a rampage, Garza said the suspect "mentioned a dislike for the community that the victims represented."
"Ortiz targeted all the victims due to their profession and being vulnerable," Garza said. "At one point, Ortiz was able to gain their trust and then viciously shot them."
Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said the victims were either drug users or sex workers.
"There appears to be some history between Ortiz and this community," said Alaniz, declining to elaborate.
Following his arrest early Saturday morning, Ortiz confessed to all of the killings which occurred between Sept. 3 and Sept. 15., according to police.
One victim was not identified, pending family notification. The other three, police said, were Claudine Anne Luera, 42, Melissa Ramirez, 29, and Humberto Ortiz, 28.
Garza credited a woman who escaped from Ortiz, a U.S. Border Patrol supervisor, for his arrest.
Ortiz was arrested after he was found hiding in a hotel parking lot around 2 a.m. Saturday. The woman who escaped from his truck at a gas station ran to a nearby police officer who was gassing up his patrol car, Garza said.
"What we understand here is that the witness had struggled with him," Garza said. "She was trying to get out. She later found that he had a weapon and she was not feeling just right to be with him. She tried to get away once. Then tried to get away twice. And from what I understand, on the second attempt, she was able to jump out through the door ..."
He said Ortiz fled the gas station and drove to his home in Laredo as an all points bulletin was issued for his pickup truck.
"He had numerous weapons. He was loading up all his weapons, thinking that [Department of Public Safety officers] were going to confront him and he was looking at a confrontation," Garza said. "Thank God that didn't happen."
He said that when officers went to Ortiz's house he was no longer there. But about 1 a.m. on Saturday, police spotted his truck at a gas station.
Garza said Ortiz had left his weapons inside his truck while he went inside the gas station to use the restroom. When he came out, two troopers were waiting for him, and one attempted to use a stun gun on him.
Ortiz ran to a nearby hotel parking lot.
"He was going to do was try to commit suicide by cop," Garza said. "He was going to try to use his phone to make it look like it was a weapon. It didn't happen. He was apprehended without incident."
Alaniz said Ortiz has been charged with four counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault with a gun and unlawful restraint.
The prosecutor said that the charges could be elevated to capital murder, depending on the results of the investigation.
"I'm not ready to make that decision at this time," Alaniz said.
Ortiz is a 10-year veteran of the CBP and has been placed on indefinite unpaid leave, said U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost, who traveled from Washington to attend Monday's news conference.
"These are horrific crimes, and this was one rogue individual," Provost said. "I am sickened and saddened by the events that have occurred and offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims."
Juan Benavides, special agent in charge of the CBP Houston office of professional responsibility, that in the decade Ortiz has worked for the agency he had only one minor allegation against him. Benavides did not elaborate on that allegation.
"There was nothing in his background certainly that would have alerted CBP or would have indicated that Mr. Ortiz was capable of doing anything like this," Benavides said.
Alaniz said all of the killings had a "common scheme."
"The evidence that we have right now is that he committed these murder in a similar fashion -- taking these individuals out to desolate areas near or right outside the city limits and executing them with a handgun," Alaniz said.
"We do consider this to be a serial killer," Alaniz said on Saturday, following Ortiz's arrest. "It meets the qualifications or definition of being a serial killer -- in this case we have four people murdered."
The woman who escaped said Ortiz picked her up in a white pickup truck and took her to his home, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. She said she began feeling uneasy when they began discussing her friend, a fellow sex worker recently found dead.
After leaving his home, the two stopped at a gas station where Ortiz allegedly pulled a gun on her and grabbed her by her shirt, according to the affidavit. She screamed for help and tried to fight him off, police said.
She said Ortiz eventually ripped her shirt off, allowing her to break free and run to the trooper who was pumping gas, according to the affidavit. She described the suspect and told police where he lived, according to the affidavit.
Ortiz is being held on a $2.5 million bond at Webb County Jail in Laredo. It's not clear if he has an attorney.
"We want to ensure the community out there that the killings will stop," Garza said. "We're certain that we have the right individual. We're hopeful that at the end justice will be served."