Sonora police ID 4 of 7 tortured & killed on ranch near Az-Mexico border
Mexican authorities have identified four of the seven men found tortured and killed in a desert wash on a Sonoran ranch near the Arizona-Mexico border.
The bodies, including one that was beheaded, were found at Rancho La Sierrita, just across the U.S.-Mexico border in a remote area about eight miles southwest of San Miguel on the Tohono O'odham Nation, about 100 miles southwest of Tucson.
On Friday, Sonora State Investigative Police released the name of one man, Cipriano Obeso Berrellaza, 38, after family members identified him from his remains, said Sonora reporter Rafael Pineda.
On Sunday, authorities released the names of three more men, including Jorge Luis Gutiérrez López, 22, and José Miguel Villa Lopez, 16, from Caborca, Sonora. Both men were believed to be working as drug mules, Sonora investigators told Pineda, who posted his reports on a Spanish-language Facebook page.
Mexican authorities also identified a fourth man as Juan Antonio Pedraza Mendoza, 27, from Mazatlan.
Authorities told the Mexican newspaper Nuevo Diá that Mendoza was a "coyote," or a hired guide for people attempting to cross into the United States. Investigators also told the newspaper that he allegedly forced migrants who hired him to carry bales of marijuana into the United States.
Police officials told Pineda that all seven bodies had been in the wash for five days were severely decomposed. Signs of torture were evident, he said.
Investigators also said that the men had been shot to death with an AK-47 assault rifle, and that shell casings from the weapon were found at the scene.
Originally from Caborca, Berrelleza had been arrested three times in the United States for drug trafficking, authorities told Pineda.
His family last had contact with him on Oct. 17 and reported him missing four days later on Oct. 21.
Rancho La Sierrita, about 500 feet from the national boundary, is known as a staging ground for people preparing to cross the Sonora desert into the United States, and has been the target of frequent raids by Mexican authorities.
In 2014, Mexican officials raided the ranch, rescuing 40 people from Mexico and Central America and arresting four people, including a man allegedly in charge of managing the ranch and collecting payments from smugglers.
During the raid, a helicopter flying in support accidentally crossed into the United States, and two Border Patrol agents reported that shots were fired from the aircraft. According to a release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agents on the ground said the shots were not aimed at them, and when they signaled the helicopter, the aircraft returned to Mexico.
During a press conference in Mexico, the chief of the Criminal Investigation Agency told reporters that during the summer, up to 400 immigrants per day would assemble there, after paying smugglers $7,000 to cross.
In 2013, a man whose throat had been cut was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents south of Vamori on the Tohono O'odham Nation, in the vicinity of Rancho La Sierrita.
Two other bodies were found just on the other side of the fence by Mexican officials in that same incident.