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An immigrant woman, her daughter and another girl who said they were kidnapped and assaulted by a border patrol agent were in the process of surrendering to the agent when their ordeal began, according to officials.
Agent Esteban Manzanares, who officials say committed suicide last week, is accused of driving the three away from the river after they surrendered and assaulting them. The other agent said Manzanares cut the wrists of the adult woman, assaulted one teenager in the group, and then fled the area with a second teenage girl.
The Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three are a mother, her underage daughter and another girl not related to them. The FBI has said the three were in the U.S. illegally.
The woman who had escaped the attack and walked upriver tripped a camera at the border fence shortly after 5 p.m. last Wednesday, according to federal officials.
They said in the camera image a woman can be seen walking toward a gap in the fence. The border agent said there was blood covering her wrists. Within 10 minutes of the camera image being taken, agents responded to the woman and began a search for the others.
One federal law enforcement official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk about the case because the FBI was leading the investigation. Another border agent spoke on condition of anonymity because the agent was not allowed to speak to the media because of the ongoing investigation.
Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency of which the Border Patrol is part, has said that when it found the woman she told them she had been attacked by a man. The federal official said the woman described the man as wearing green fatigues. Border Patrol agents wear green uniforms. She also described a vehicle that the federal official said authorities believed to be a Border Patrol vehicle.
The official and the agent said a search was quickly launched in the area for the other two victims. One of the teenagers was found near the border in the brush, and hours later the second girl was located in Manzanares’ home in Mission, the federal official and the agent said. Mission is a suburb of McAllen, close to the Texas-Mexico border about 350 miles from Houston.
When authorities approached the agent’s apartment, they heard gunfire. A short time later, when investigators went into the apartment, they found him dead and rescued the other girl.
A CBP official told The Associated Press that the agent was on duty when he encountered the females and that his shift had ended by the time authorities showed up at his house and he shot himself. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing investigation by the FBI.
Karol Escalante, a spokeswoman for the Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three Hondurans are recovering at a hospital in McAllen. She would not elaborate on their injuries.
R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement that such acts are not representative of Border Patrol agents. He added that the agency is working to make sure the victims receive proper care.
“I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again,” he said.
The Border Patrol agent who participated in the search said Manzanares was assigned to Anzalduas Park. The FBI said it is awaiting an autopsy report on Manzanares, who the Border Patrol said had been with the agency since 2008.
In a statement in Spanish, the Honduran foreign ministry condemned the assaults and kidnapping and asked the U.S. government for a thorough investigation, for psychological and medical assistance for the victims, for financial compensation and for legal immigration status for the victims.
“Lastly, the government of Honduras calls on the U.S. government to protect the human rights of immigrants, whatever their migratory status might be because all countries – their authorities in particular – are obligated to respect the dignity of human beings,” the statement concludes.
The number of apprehensions by the Border Patrol – a figure commonly used to gauge the ebb and flow of illegal border crossers – rose by 16 percent last year to 420,789 people detained. More than half of those arrests were made in Texas.
Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said last October that much of the increase was due to a rise in the number of people from Central America trying to enter the U.S. in South Texas.
While apprehensions of Mexican nationals remained fairly steady, arrests of immigrants from other countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, rose 55 percent. Limited economic opportunities and widespread gang and drug cartel violence in Central America have driven tens of thousands north along a dangerous route through Mexico.