Suicide, assault allegations stun border agent's family

By Alicia A. Caldwell

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 17 2014 7:12 a.m. MDT

This photo made, Saturday, March 15, 2014 shows the general area in Anzalduas Park in Misison, Texas., where officials say a group of three female immigrants from Honduras tried to surrender to Border Patrol Agent Esteban Manzanares Wednesday afternoon. Manzanares killed himself early Thursday and the FBI is investigating allegations that he kidnapped and assaulted the migrants before committing suicide.

Alicia A. Caldwell, Associated Press

MISSION, Texas — Esteban Manzanares was working his regular day shift as a U.S. Border Patrol agent along the busiest stretch of Mexican border when a trio of Honduran immigrants spotted him and offered to surrender.

A woman, her teenage daughter and a teenage family friend later told authorities they were taken into custody and driven away from a popular county park just north of the Rio Grande and upriver to a more remote, scrub brush-filled area. It was there, in this rugged no-man's land between the river and a stretch of rust-covered steel border fence, that the older woman says the group was assaulted by a man wearing green fatigues who left the area with one of the girls.

Based on the woman's description of the attacker's clothing and his vehicle, investigators quickly concluded the suspect was likely a U.S. Border Patrol agent, according a federal law enforcement official.

More than seven hours after the older woman was first spotted Wednesday, her wrists cut and bloodied, agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement found Manzanares dead in his apartment from what investigators have described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The missing teenager was there, too, bound and naked.

Manzanares' family has no idea what could have led the Border Patrol agent to his apparent suicide. They said allegations that he kidnapped and assaulted the women were even harder to comprehend.

"Honestly, I don't know," Manzanares' ex-wife, Susana Manzanares said Sunday. "It's really hard to believe."

She and Esteban Manzanares met online about 10 years ago. She described him as a sweet, kind-hearted man who helped strangers. They married in 2006.

The pair divorced earlier this year, but Susana Manzanares, 30, said they remained friendly and spoke often, usually about their 6-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, both of whom have cystic fibrosis.

"What surprises me is that he would leave his children," she said as she watched her daughter, Artemis, toddle around the living room of her apartment.

Manzaneres, 32, was originally from the McAllen area and he had been with the Border Patrol since 2008, serving at a checkpoint further away from the border before transferring to a station along the border to be closer to his children, his ex-wife said. Before joining the Border Patrol he worked as a local jailer and served in the Army National Guard, she said.

The day the FBI said Manzanares kidnapped and assaulted the immigrants, he and Susana Manzanares texted each other about the kids. In his last message to her, about 3:15 p.m., he said he wanted to help with the kids.

"I want to help in any way I can but I am very limited," he wrote.

Susana Manzanares said she sent him another message at 5:23 p.m. to chat about plans to swap sofas. By then, according to officials who discussed the case with The Associated Press, Manzanares had left the border with the teenage girl. At some point, he dropped off his patrol truck at the nearby station in McAllen, a border city about 350 miles south of Houston. He never responded to his ex-wife's message.

The details of what happened between the time other border patrol agents found the older woman near the border fence in a place called Abram and when investigators heard a single gunshot inside his first-floor apartment remain unclear.

The FBI has declined to discuss specifics of the case. The Homeland Security Department has referred questions about Esteban Manzanares' shift and activities that day to the FBI.

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