Border Patrol Agent Accused of 12-Day Killing Spree: 'He Decided ... These People Did Not Deserve to Live'

Border Patrol Agent Juan David Ortiz could face the death penalty for brutal serial killings in southern Texas.

What he wanted, he allegedly told Texas investigators in a chilling confession, was to clean the streets of Laredo. That's why, he said, he went on a 12-day rampage, killing four women and leaving them on the side of rural roads. 

Juan David Ortiz, a 35-year-old Navy veteran and former intelligence supervisor for the U.S. Border Patrol, is charged with being a serial killer who preyed upon local women, killing four and kidnapping another.

He shot his victims with his service weapon, prosecutor Isidro Alaniz told, and left their bodies in plain sight.

The women were sex workers, many of whom struggled for years with drug addiction, their families said, and whose workplace was San Bernardo Avenue, a tightly packed thoroughfare of cheap motels, auto body shops, taco stands and convenience stores. All of the women knew each other; some were good friends.

But Ortiz, a married father of two young children, said he wanted to rid Laredo of the women's presence, according to Alaniz. 

"He decided in his own mind that these people did not deserve to live," the prosecutor said. "It was not up to Juan David Ortiz to decide to end their lives. Nobody has that right. Nobody has the right to unilaterally decide that another person shouldn't live, and then execute them as if they're just an inanimate object."

All but one of the victims had children. All had families in Laredo who are still grappling with the women's brutal ends.

"These were mothers, they were daughters, they were sisters," said Colette Miereles, whose sister, 42-year-old Claudine Luera, was victim No. 2. "They didn't deserve this."

Angelica Perez, another sister of Luera's, remembers the anguish of bringing together her nieces and nephews. "We had to tell them, 'Your mother's gone.' It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, because we had to listen to their screams.

"He left her on the side of the road like she was trash."

The sole survivor managed to jump out of Ortiz's truck after he pointed his service weapon at her, investigators said. He grabbed her shirt, but she slipped out of it and ran, wearing only a bra from the waist up. Erika Pena, 26, fled to a gas station, where she saw a Texas trooper filling up his cruiser. She begged for help, according to Webb County sheriff's deputies. 

In the next few hours, as deputies searched for Ortiz, he killed two more women, authorities said.

The murders terrified the border town, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas and home to the largest internal port on the U.S.-Mexico border. International trade fuels the local economy, and the metropolitan area's population of about 260,000 is more than 95% Hispanic or Latino. 

"When this case broke open, the community's tight-knit, so it was very scary for people," Alaniz said. "Lardeo's not used to dealing with a serial killer ... This is such a friendly town. People are so respectful."

It is particularly galling, Alaniz said, that Ortiz was "entrusted with protection and defending the Constitution." The killings also took place as President Trump ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric and increased the detention of asylum seekers — though Laredo's border crossings are more for commerce than immigration.

As an intelligence supervisor with the agency, Oritz investigated human and narcotics trafficking and had long patrolled the border, where he knew the back roads and highways, authorities said.

The district attorney for Webb and Zapata counties says Ortiz knew the women were easy targets because of their addictions and their occupations. "He knew that and he capitalized on that," said Alaniz. The suspect also thought he could get away with it, Alaniz said, because he was a law enforcement official and therefore beyond suspicion.

That hubris contributed to the prosecutor filing capital murder charges against Ortiz, he said. "It's my decision to pursue the death penalty," he said. If Ortiz is found guilty, "his punishment should be death," Alaniz added. 


The case began on Sept. 3, 2018, when a rancher called 911 to say there was a body on the side of Texas Highway 255, right out in the open.

Melissa Ramirez, 29, the mother of two young children, had been shot multiple times in the head with a .40-caliber handgun. 

Ten days later, about two miles east on the same stretch of barren highway, Luera's body was found. Again, the remains were easily seen, more so this time because Luera had managed to crawl toward the road. She had been shot several times in the head. "She had a heartbeat when he left her there," said Mireles, her sister. "That's the hardest part. Knowing she was there alone."

Hours after Luera's body was found, Ortiz picked up Pena, authorities said. She had known him for about four months, her relatives said. When she got into his truck on Sept. 14, he took her to his house, Pena told investigators. She knew his name only as David, but she was aware he was a Border Patrol agent, her family told local reporters last year.

He had been her customer before, she said. She asked Ortiz about her friend, Ramirez, and her death, which seemed to anger the Border Patrol agent, authorities said. Pena became so frightened she walked out onto Ortiz's front lawn and vomited, she told investigators. She made an excuse to get back to San Bernardo Avenue. She needed cigarettes, she told Ortiz, authorities said. 

As they drove, she mentioned Ramirez again. At a stop light, they argued, with Ortiz grabbing his service gun and pointing it at her chest, investigators said. She flung open the truck's door and took off screaming, finding Department of Public Safety Trooper Francisco Hernandez refueling at an Alero gas station on San Bernardo. 

As Pena pleaded with Hernandez, Ortiz drove off, the prosecutor said. She told Hernandez that her attacker was a Border Patrol agent she knew as David. He tried to kill me, she said.

"Due to her courageousness in saving her own life," Alaniz said, "she broke the case open."

She didn't know the agent's last name, but she knew where he lived. Webb County sheriff's deputies were able to figure out his full name and issued a BOLO (be on the lookout) alert for him. 

But as they searched, Ortiz allegedly ramped up his own efforts to clean the streets. In the next five hours, according to the prosecutor, Ortiz picked up and killed Guiselda "Shelly" Hernandez Cantu, 35, the mother of four. He allegedly shot her several times and left her on the side of Interstate 35, which bisects Laredo and heads north all the way to Minnesota.  

He turned around and headed south on Interstate 35, back to Laredo, where he picked up Janelle Ortiz, 28, a transgender woman who got into the Border Patrol agent's truck after he asked if she "was working," a witness told authorities. As he did with Cantu, Ortiz shot her and dumped her body near the interstate, investigators said.

Deputies caught up with Ortiz at 1 a.m. on Sept. 15, when he stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom, the prosecutor said. He ran, but was arrested after they found him hiding in the bed of a pickup truck in a nearby parking structure, Alaniz said.

Authorities said he gave a taped, nine-hour confession, telling investigators there were two new victims since Pena's escape, Alaniz said. Ortiz told deputies where they could find the bodies, the prosecutor said. 

Ortiz pleaded not guilty in January to murder, kidnapping and assault charges. He has been held on $2.5 million bail since his arrest. A request for comment from to his attorney was not answered. His next court date is scheduled for October. 

Though he knew his first two victims, authorities said, the last two were strangers.

"They deserve justice," Alaniz said. "Their families deserve justice. These individuals are human beings, and they have family members that love them, that care for them, that miss them."

The families depend on Alaniz for that justice. "The district attorney is a very humble man," said Mireles. "He did pay his respects to us." His office stays in constant contact with family members about Ortiz's case. "I know we will get justice," she said. "This man will be held accountable."

Though grief can't be measured by inches or time, it looms large over the five children of Luera, as well as her sisters and their children. 

Luera was a quiet child. As a teenager, she began to rebel, fighting with her mother. "My mom couldn't understand why," Perez said. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade and fell into drugs and the wrong company. "Our father gave her an ultimatum, either you go to jail or you get the help you need," Perez recounted. "She got help and went into rehab."

For the next few years, Luera straightened out. She had a daughter, and then two sets of twins. She was a stay-at-home mom. Then she and her partner split up and two of her children were diagnosed as having special needs. "She hardly left the house. It was rough taking care of them on her own," said Mireles. 

Her family helped as much as they could, said her sisters, but Luera's despair, and her demons, were stronger than they imagined.

"The bottom fell out of her life. She got depressed. She took to drinking. We suspected it was more than alcohol," Mireles said. It was much more than that, her family later earned — it was heroin.

But Luera always insisted she was fine, that things would work out, that she was just making her way through a rough patch.

Five years ago, after Luera lost her home and was living in a motel with her kids, children's services workers showed up to collect them. Social workers had received reports Luera was neglecting them. The five children were split among relatives. "My sister took in two," Perez said. "My aunt took the other two and her eldest was off and on staying with me.

"That's when I believe she turned to the streets and that's when she started doing what she was doing," Perez said. "It was very hard on us because she was just roaming the streets."

But that didn't stop her family from reaching out to her. 

"She was sleeping under the bridge. Her daughter tried to take her to rehab," Mireles said. "She was so ashamed of what she had done that she didn't try to better herself."

That was February 2018. Luera did go to rehab, but she left before her treatment ended, her heroin addiction greater than her resolve. "She said it was a physical pain that she would feel if she went hours without it," Perez said. "She said 'I can't. I feel like I'm going to die. You don't understand.'"

In April, Luera landed in the hospital. An abscess was eating at her leg, in the spot where she shot up.  

Mireles went to see her. "Your children need you," she said she told her. Take this time in the hospital, her family said, to get clean, where doctors can help you through withdrawal and your leg can be treated.

Luera said she'd try.  

But she fled the hospital, checking herself out against her doctor's orders. She needed antibiotics for the hole in her leg, and her relatives went to Mexico, where medication is cheaper, and bought her pills. 

"She started getting better," Perez said. She would talk about this hard life she was living, and how it was wearing her out.

In September, Luera called Perez. "We talked for like two, two-and-a-half hours. We laughed. I was going to Hawaii on vacation. She was so excited. She said, 'Take lots of pictures,'" Perez recalled. 

"We were talking about our childhood, the way my mom was, how she would make us laugh." Their mother used to dress up her little girls and then dragged them to see horror films. "I mean, the scariest movies ... and we would leave petrified," Perez said, laughing at the memory.

She and Luera giggled about that. At one point, Luera said, "I miss mom, I really miss mom," who died in 2009. "I do, too,'' Perez replied. 

On Sept. 11, Mireles talked to Luera on the phone. Her sister was happy that two of her children had recently graduated from high school. "She was so proud," Mireles said. "She didn't give us any indication of anything being wrong." Luera was her usual, happy-go-lucky self.

"Never would I have ever thought that would be the last time I ever spoke to her," Mireles said, her voice catching.

They found Luera's body two days later. Her sisters started hearing about it long before authorities came calling, they said. "I started getting phone calls from people from the streets," Perez said. The body found on Highway 255, that was Luera, the callers said.

She was the second sex worker to be killed within 10 days. Mireles said she called the Webb County Sheriff's Office, then the morgue, begging someone to tell her if the body they had belonged to her sister. 

Eventually, Mireles was told what she didn't want to hear. Yes, the coroner's office told her, they had the body of Claudine Ann Luera.

Two days later, her family would once again be slapped with information that left them incredulous.

A suspect had been arrested in Luera's killing. "The first thing I thought, was that it was a drug dealer," Perez said. "I said, 'What do you mean, he's a Border Patrol agent?' I didn't know how to react to that."

In Laredo, where the U.S.-Mexico border lies just 5 miles away, Border Patrol agents are as common a sight as police officers. Many live in town or just outside it. They are part of the community. 

In Laredo, the families of the victims held vigils, lighting candles and holding photographs of four beautiful women whose lives were marred by powerful addictions and cut short by a killer who believed, according to the prosecutor, that they didn't deserve to live.

Their families believed no such thing.

"Addiction is a monster," said Mireles. "One person uses, but the whole family suffers. We never lost hope in Claudine," she said.

"We never stopped believing that her life would change ... We were so close, I think, because she was realizing that she didn't want to go through it anymore. And sadly, he took that away from us. 

"For people out there who are dealing with addiction, get the help you need. Know that you are loved, no matter what ... know your family loves you," Perez said. "Get the help. Get better."