Friends, instructors and family members said they were unaware of the secret life of a college student who allegedly was "the witch" in a cult believed responsible for the slayings of at least 13 people in Mexico.
Sara Maria Aldrete, 24, a student at Texas Southmost College, was being sought for questioning in the ritualistic deaths of the people whose bodies were found Tuesday in shallow graves in Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande.Aldrete is accused of being one of about 10 members of a cult that smuggled marijuana into the United States and abducted, tortured and killed people in bizarre rituals in order to be protected from evil and harm.
Friends and teachers described Aldrete as cheery, competitive and studious.
But Aldrete had another side, police said.
By day in the United States, she was an honor-roll student, but at night in Matamoros she became "the witch."
"She was leading a double life. She had one life in Matamoros, with what she was doing with these people in narcotics and worshiping, and in the United States, (where) she was a student at TSC, and all the sports she was involved in, activities, and was on the honor roll," said Cameron County Sheriff's Lt. George Gavito.
"The friends over here didn't know much about what she was doing in Mexico," Gavito said.
As it turns out, even her parents in Matamoros knew nothing about her daughter's activities.
Israel and Maria Teresa Aldrete last saw their daughter when she left the house a week ago, and earlier this week police raided the daughter's upstairs room and found an altar with candles, blood spatters on the wall and a burnt floor.
"We were ignorant of this," the parents said.
TSC instructors, meanwhile, also were shocked at learning about Aldrete's alleged involvement in drugs and slayings, which included the abduction and slaying of Mark Kilroy, a 21-year-old University of Texas pre-med student whose disappearence from Matamoros during spring break March 14 generated much publicity.
Kilroy was among those abducted, killed and mutilated by the cult at the Santa Elena Ranch, about 20 miles west of Matamoros.
"This whole thing is unbelieveable. If anybody would have picked up on some of those occult characteristics in class I think it would have been me," said Dr. Tony Zavaleta, a TSC anthropology professor who also specializes in folk medicine research and was Aldrete's professor for several classes.
"She was striking - always well-groomed, neatly dressed, always present in class. She was the perfect student. If I had a roomful of students like her, I'd be happy," Zavaleta said.
Police say Aldrete, a resident alien who has homes in Matamoros and Brownsville, is believed to be on the run in the United States.
Police are not sure how she got involved with the cult and drug-smuggling group.
"We know she is a major player and we are trying to find her," said Oran Neck, agent-in-charge of the U.S. Customs Service in Brownsville.
"I just really will not believe all this until I hear it from Sara's own lips," said Marvine Wallace, a TSC physical education teacher.