McALLEN — Two men are in custody after they were discovered to have a runaway in their vehicle, and are now being accused of crossing state lines to kidnap and sexually assault the victim, police here said during a news conference Tuesday.
“We don’t do this very often, and we try not to necessarily call you out unless it’s something we think is important,” Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said as he addressed a room full of media at the McAllen Police Department. “This is a case that we think is hugely important.”
On Sunday morning, at about 9:30 a.m., a parent contacted McAllen police to report that her 13-year-old daughter had run away.
“There is no question that the little girl ran away,” Rodriguez said. “She left a note saying, ‘I’m leaving,’ for whatever reason she may have. On the other end of that is the fact that she is 13-years-old. They’re not fully mature to know enough about what they’re doing.”
Rodriguez said that the girl had met someone over the past week through the social media app Snapchat. She somehow made contact with Brandon Galvez, 21, of Chalmette, Louisiana.
Galvez and Jose Ramos-Serrano, 22, traveled from Louisiana to McAllen for the girl.
The chief said that Ramos-Serrano is originally from Nicaragua, but was living in the country lawfully.
Rodriguez said that the girl may have believed that the men were taking her to Mexico, but instead they appeared to be going back to Louisiana.
“Within the hour, our investigators began to determine that there was some northbound activity with this girl,” Rodriguez said, noting this wasn’t the first time she had tried to run away from home. “Ultimately, within the hour, Border Patrol intercepted a vehicle at the Falfurrias checkpoint.
Both men were arraigned on Tuesday afternoon.
Ramos-Serrano was charged with aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and received a $250,000 bond. He was also charged with failure to report aggravated sexual assault, a Class A misdemeanor, and received a $15,000 bond.
Galvez was also charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony, on $250,000 bonds apiece.
Rodriguez said that his department would try to refer the case to a federal prosecution due to the case involving the crossing of interstate lines.
“Here is a young girl who thought she had found a friend and who thought they were doing well for her,” Rodriguez said. “Between the time of leaving the home and arriving in Falfurrias, she had already been sexually assaulted.
“We truly believe that absent of that interception, she might have met her demise.”
Rodriguez said that at the moment he does not know if this case is part of a larger sex trafficking ring.
“We’re certainly going to be looking at that,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve asked one of our federal partners to help us look and see if there’s anything beyond these two (men). … “We don’t know. We’re in the early stages of trying to figure out who these people are.”
Rodriguez said that this particular case creates more awareness about the dangers surrounding young children using social media and certain electronics unmonitored.
“This is the absolute time to be watching our kids and be monitoring their electronic activities, to be guarding their electronic appliances, to be mindful of kids’ changes of behavior,” Rodriguez said.