Trans woman among victims of ‘serial killer’ border patrol agent

A Facebook photo of Janelle Ortiz, one of 25 trans people killed in the US in 2018

A transgender woman was allegedly murdered by a Texas border patrol agent whom authorities have described as behaving like a “serial killer.”

Webb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Fred Garza announced the capture of suspect Juan David Ortiz and revealed the identities of his four victims during a press conference on Monday, as summarised by The Washington Post.

Janelle Ortiz (no relation to the suspect) is believed to have been killed in Laredo, Texas, on Saturday.

In identifying the victim, police chief Garza used Ortiz’s birth name, rather than her chosen name.

Janelle was killed on September 15, aged 28. (Facebook)

Janelle Ortiz, a 28-year-old Latinx from Laredo, becomes the 21st known transgender person murdered in the US so far this year.

The border patrol agent had served in the force for the past 10 years. Authorities said he confessed to his crimes and is being held in jail on a $2.5 million bond.

Garza said suspect Ortiz picked his victims because they were “vulnerable and defenceless” due to their profession as sex workers. “He gained their trust and viciously shot them,” he added.

The police had been investigating the murders of sex workers Melissa Ramirez, killed on September 3, and Claudine Ann Luera, whom Ortiz confessed to killing 10 days later.

Ortiz was only caught because a third woman he attacked was able to escape from his pickup truck on Friday night and reported him to a state trooper she encountered at a gas station.

Janelle becomes the 21st known transgender person murdered in the US so far this year (Facebook)

But by the time police arrested him in a hotel parking lot five hours later, in the early hours of Saturday morning, Ortiz had killed two more people—Janelle Ortiz and another unidentified victim.

“We consider this man to be a serial killer who was preying on one victim after another,” Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said, quoted in The Washington Post.

Janelle Ortiz’s family held a vigil in her honour in Laredo on Tuesday. Her cousin Veronica Castillo thanked Roque Vela Jr., who is running for mayor of the Texas town, for attending the event in a Facebook post, decrying the lack of support from the current mayor Pete Saenz.

The Aguero Funeral Home and Crematorium published details of the funeral service for Ortiz identifying her by her birth name. Several of Janelle’s friends and family members have expressed their mourning by changing their profile picture to a black ribbon bearing Ortiz’s birth name.

There have been 21 known murders of transgender women in the US in 2018. Three of the killings took place in Jacksonville, Florida, where local transgender rights campaigners fear that a serial killer is targeting the community.