NEAR ABRAM — A U.S. Border Patrol agent came across two girls and a woman near the Rio Grande before dusk Wednesday, when he took them into his custody, investigators said.
But rather than arrest the Honduran nationals suspected of an immigration violation, he broke the law himself.
Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares, 32, raped the woman and slashed her wrists. He then turned to her 14-year-old daughter and sexually assaulted her, as well, and tried to break her neck. The girl passed out as a result.
The mother and one daughter managed to flee, said three law enforcement officials investigating or briefed on the case.
Following the outdoor assaults, Manzanares left the mother and her daughter behind before he took the other teen with him, the officials said.
He then took the girl to his Mission home in the 4300 block of South Shary Road, where he tied her up, stuffed a sock in her mouth and went back to finish his shift patrolling the area south of Mission.
Afterward, just before midnight, he went home and sexually assaulted the girl, two law enforcement officials confirmed.
The woman, who is believed to have be an immigrant from Honduras who’d just illegally crossed the Rio Grande, told authorities searching the area that the man who had taken her girl was wearing a green uniform — Border Patrol’s color, a law enforcement official said.
Shortly after, agents found the second victim and searched for the third.
Federal and local investigators already were on Manzanares’ trail. As FBI agents arrived outside his home, they heard a gunshot — the bullet that Manzanares used to take his own life, two law enforcement officials said. Members of a Mission police SWAT team responded, broke a window and forced their way inside.
There, they found the 14-year-old girl, still bound — but alive.
Federal agencies investigating the case would not provide many details surrounding the horrific events of Wednesday evening, confirming only that three females had been assaulted and that a Border Patrol agent had taken his own life. By Thursday evening, Border Patrol confirmed Manzanares’ identity.
Manzanares’ ex-wife, Susana, said an FBI agent told her Thursday that the father of her two young children had committed suicide.
“I didn’t know anything, just that he killed himself,” she said. “That’s the only thing that they told me.”
In a statement, the FBI confirmed an active investigation into the kidnapping and assault of three females suspected to be in the country without authorization. The statement said a Border Patrol agent is the focus of the probe and that his body was found in his residence. The agency is working with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, Mission police and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office to sort out the case.
And in its statement, CBP said it was working a “search and recovery operation following the encountering of an injured adult female during regular CBP operations who provided information that she and two other females had been assaulted by a male subject.” CBP said Mission police found Manzanares’ body inside and discovered the abducted girl.
“We will continue to work to ensure that incidents like this (do) not occur in the future,” the agency’s statement reads. “CBP takes this incident extremely seriously and we are fully cooperating with the investigation. CBP holds its employees to the highest ethical standards. We stand ready to take any additional action necessary, pending the investigation.”
The victims were being treated Thursday afternoon at McAllen Medical Center. Hospital spokeswoman Cari Lambrecht said she could not divulge any details about their condition, citing patient confidentiality laws.
What may have led Manzanares to commit such heinous acts was not speculated upon by law enforcement — on the record or off — on Thursday.
Manzanares, who has been with Border Patrol since 2008, recently went through a divorce.
Hidalgo County court records show that Esteban and Susana Manzanares’ separation became final Jan. 29.
They have two children — a 1-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. They agreed to joint custody, court filings say, and had been separated since August.
Susana, 30, said her ex-husband hadn’t shown any signs that he was depressed during and after the divorce.
“He was still the same person,” she said. “I didn’t notice anything. He wanted the divorce so I don’t know why it would affect him. We both wanted it.”
In the past couple of months, Esteban posted several photos with his children on social media.
“Missing my kids so much,” he wrote in a Feb. 6 Facebook post along with photos of his kids.
Despite that, Susana said her ex-husband didn’t seem on the verge of doing anything like what happened Wednesday.
“I don’t know what else to say,” she said. “He never showed anything.”
She arranged for her two kids to stay at a former neighbor’s house while FBI agents questioned her Thursday.
The neighbor, a woman who declined to give her name, said the Manzanares family used to live across the street in northern Edinburg before they divorced.
Her boy played outside with other boys his age in the neighbor’s front yard. He wobbled around on borrowed roller skates and dug in the dirt with a stick, not yet aware of the past night’s events.
The neighbor who was watching him said, however, that the child had begun to tell her, “I think my dad’s in jail.”
Neira Galvan, a relative of the neighbor, said she’d known Esteban for about five years. He would come across the street to barbecues even though he spent most of his time working with the Border Patrol, she said.
Upon hearing about what investigators say he did, the former neighbor was almost speechless.
“He was quiet, I didn’t think, I mean, you would never think he’d do something like this,” Galvan said. “How are you supposed to tell the kids this? He was so quiet, I never thought anything of it.”
Staff writer Dave Hendricks contributed to this report.