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Border Patrol Agent Is Arrested In Connection With 4 Murders

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Over the weekend, authorities arrested an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol. His name is Juan David Ortiz, and he is accused of killing four women in Texas. A fifth woman says she escaped after Ortiz abducted her. NPR's Shannon Van Sant reports.

SHANNON VAN SANT, BYLINE: Authorities describe Ortiz as a serial killer, and say he went on a two-week killing spree around the city of Laredo, Texas, near the U.S. border of Mexico, fatally shooting four women. He has been charged with four counts of murder, as well as aggravated assault and unlawful restraint. Customs and Border Protection released a statement expressing condolences for the victim's family and friends. The agency also said that while it is their policy to not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation, criminal action by their employees is not and will not be tolerated. Ortiz's case is an extreme example of several recent episodes involving abuse or murder by Border Patrol agents, at a time when some are calling for curbs on the actions of immigration officials and greater oversight. Ortiz was a Border Patrol supervisor and had worked for the agency for 10 years. Cynthia Pompa is an advocacy manager at the ACLU's Border Rights Center. She says hiring and screening processes for a Border Patrol agent should be improved, following a hiring surge in the mid-2000s.

CYNTHIA POMPA: I think it's important that we recognize that this agency grew very quickly. The hiring standards were lowered in order to meet the number of agents.

VAN SANT: All of Ortiz's victims were prostitutes, and their deaths have spread alarm in some Texas communities. Marlene Chavez is a human rights activist and community advocate in the Rio Grande Valley.

MARLENE CHAVEZ: Someone at that authority level and, you know, having that type of ranking just brings more distress and more fear in our communities. I mean, there's already a prevalence of fear.

VAN SANT: She says the spate of killings will raise tensions along the border, that Ortiz's arrest is unlikely to calm. Ortiz was jailed on Sunday on a $2.5 million bond. Shannon Van Sant NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TACOMA NARROWS BRIDGE DISASTER SONG, "WAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.