Police puzzled by ex-Senate candidate’s brutal beating

RAYMONDVILLE — Police here have made three arrests related to the brutal beating of former Republican state Senate candidate Vanessa Tijerina on Christmas Eve and are continuing to search for more persons of interest related to the attack, the motive for which remains unclear to investigators.

According to police, Tijerina was lured into a hotel room that day, where she was bound, gagged, beaten and threatened with death before being freed by officers.

The Raymondville Police Department arrested Amanda Salinas, Arielle Vela and Ramon Santana Jr. in relation to the incident on Dec. 24.

All Willacy County residents, Salinas, Vela and Santana racked up a total of 22 charges cumulatively, among them aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful restraint, engaging in organized criminal activity and aggravated robbery.

Tijerina has chronicled her recovery from the attack in a series of Facebook Live videos, where she described it as a crime fueled by hate.

“I never fought back because I knew that if I fought back it was going to go worse for me, and I probably wasn’t going to survive,” she said through tears in a video posted the day of the attack.

One of Tijerina’s eyes is swollen shut in the video, and her face is black and blue.

Police say Salinas, 18, lured Tijerina to the Texas Inn in Raymondville that day. Salinas was out on bond for attempted murder after stabbing her boyfriend earlier this year, Raymondville police Chief Uvaldo Zamora said Wednesday.

Police records show Salinas was intoxicated with narcotics the day of the assault.

Zamora says Tijerina met Salinas while they were incarcerated together. He says Salinas called Tijerina that day to tell her she needed to talk to her about something.

“When she arrived they let her in and pretended like everything was OK,” he said. “They started a small conversation, and all of the sudden Amanda Salinas started accusing Vanessa of either badmouthing or insulting her or her family.”

Uvaldo says the people in the hotel room tied Tijerina up. At one point they covered her face and gagged her with a bandana or towel, threatening to kill her and beating her savagely.

“They punched her multiple times, and then they used a cloth to try to strangle her. They kicked her,” Zamora said. “That was an ordeal for her; these girls, they meant business. They weren’t playing around. This was no game.”

Tijerina’s assailants broadcast the attack in a video online, Zamora said.

“That’s how we got the call,” he said. “We got the call about what was happening to her, we just didn’t know exactly where, so we went by the house, we went by some of the hotels until we finally found her car at the Texas Inn.”

Officers found Vela, 20, and Santana, 29, in the room when they arrived, Zamora said. He says Tijerina was hidden in the bathroom.

“They hid her inside the bathroom and they kind of threatened her not to say anything or else they were going to kill her,” he said.

Zamora says the assault was not tied to Tijerina’s status as a political candidate and described it as an isolated incident. As far as a motive for the bizarre crime, Zamora says he remains perplexed.

“I wish I had a better motive for this. It really doesn’t make any sense,” the chief said.

Zamora says another individual was in the room for a portion of the incident and that his department is currently searching for two individuals to question about the assault.

Raymondville police are asking for the public’s help locating those individuals.

Tips can be submitted by calling (956) 642-7463.

mwilson@themonitor.com