Erika Peña is still fearful and shaken days after she managed to escape from the hands of a US Border Patrol supervisor accused of a string of killings in south Texas, her family says.
The 26-year-old mother was in a pickup truck with Juan David Ortiz, a 10-year veteran of US Customs and Border Protection, on Friday when he pointed a pistol at her and she struggled with him until she was able to run away and find a state trooper, officials said.
“It’s a miracle that she’s alive,” her brother Cesar Alberto Villarreal said.
Authorities were able to find Ortiz with Peña’s help and eventually they arrested him in the parking garage of a hotel. But Peña’s family doesn’t want anyone to ignore the trauma she endured.
“Yes, to others she is a hero, but it doesn’t take away the fact that she was also a victim in this tragedy. She is a survivor but she is going through serious trauma,” said Peña’s aunt Marcela Rodriguez.
Peña has a 5-year-old daughter and has lived in Laredo all her life. She is known for her smile and outgoing personality, her family says, but now, she doesn’t want to be alone and sometimes cries in her sleep.
“She’s going to need counseling and help from professionals. She’s still in shock,” Villarreal said.
Suspect thought no one would care, family says
Rodriguez said they had heard about the case but didn’t know anything about what had happened to Peña when sheriff’s deputies took her home on Saturday.
“They brought her home. We didn’t know anything — that she was the one that escaped,” Rodriguez said.
Peña’s family believes Ortiz preyed on a vulnerable community. He confessed to killing four women between September 3 and early Saturday, all of whom he picked up in a prostitution hub of Laredo.
He has been charged with four counts of murder and one count each of unlawful restraint and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, officials said.
“Whatever their job was or whatever they were doing, they’re human beings,” Rodriguez said. “He thought that they don’t have a house to live in, relatives to go to, or that no one was going to look for them. No one would care for them.”
On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Federico Garza of the Webb County Sheriff’s Office told reporters that he was not confident that authorities had identified all of Ortiz’s victims.
Three of the victims have been identified as Melissa Ramirez, 29, Claudine Luera, 42, and Humberto Ortiz, 28. Humberto Ortiz was a transgender woman, according to police. Ortiz also went by the name Janelle, a spokesperson with the Webb County district attorney said. CNN is attempting to confirm the victim’s preferred name and pronoun.
Authorities are not releasing the name of the fourth victim until her relatives have been notified.
The family plans to move forward by finding medical care for Peña. They also intend to hire a lawyer. The family declined to specify what kind of legal action they plan to take.