More than two weeks after Border Patrol found 47-year-old Mauricio Zuniga Gamboa’s lifeless body on South Trophy Street in Rio Grande City, investigators there say a smuggler abandoned him after he fell ill and then hit his head.
The investigation into Gamboa’s death began at around 4 p.m. on Aug. 26 after Border Patrol called Rio Grande City police to report that they found a body — a not uncommon incident in a region people illegally cross into the country frequently through thick brush and extreme weather.
In fact, Police Chief Noe Castillo said they’ve recently been called to the area south of Expressway 83 at least four times for bodies being located.
In this case, investigators were able to piece together what happened and have charged two men in the case, one who is in custody and another who is a “known” smuggler.
“After speaking with witnesses and relatives of Gamboa, investigators learned that 21-year-old Jesus Gerardo Davila Jr. made arrangments to smuggle Zuniga from Mexico into the United States across the Rio Grande River for a fee of a couple thousand dollars. Davila Jr. made contact with known smuggler “El Venado’ also known as Fernando Martinez Perez,” police said in a news release.
Police have arrested Davila and charged the man with smuggling of persons and tampering with physical evidence. Investigators have a warrant for Perez, and anyone with information on his whereabouts is urged to call the Rio Grande City Police Department at (956) 487-8892.
When Border Patrol found Gamboa’s body, they noted that he had a blood stain coming through a shirt that was on his head, according to the release.
“However, while crossing the US-Mexico border Zuniga began to feel ill. At one point, they attempted to climb over a wall and Zuniga fell hitting his head. Zuniga’s condition continued to worsen. Investigators say Davila Jr. and Perez then removed Zuniga from their vehicle and left him in the brush, which is where Border Patrol agents later discovered his body,” police say in the news release.
A Rio Grande City official noted in a phone conversation that Gamboa fell over a structural wall, not border wall.
“Detectives say Davila Jr. then dropped Perez at the Hidalgo Port of Entry and then returned to Rio Grande City to wash the inside and outside of his vehicle at a local car wash,” according to the release.
Castillo, the police chief, took to Facebook on Thursday evening to tell the public that while Gamboa did enter the country illegally, he is still a person whose family is left behind to mourn his death.
“Smuggling of persons happens every day throughout the southwest border, but it’s not OK to leave people to die or leave people behind,” Castillo said. “If we do, or are able to investigate one of these cases, as we did in this prior case, we’re going to charge the people that are involved in the case.”
And if investigators determine the suspects are from Mexico, Castillo said they will charge you in the United States and if someone does die, suspects will face first-degree felonies, like Davila Jr. and Perez.
“It is serious,” Castillo said. “These individuals that come across, they are human beings and we need to treat them as such.”