Six fugitives are on the loose in South Texas
Schools were closed here and some residents feared inmates lurked in the shadows, as six fugitives remained at large late Wednesday after escaping in one of the largest breakouts in recent South Texas history.
"You never know what's going to happen, where they are going to be, where they are going to hit," said Santiago Espinosa, 54, with a ball-peen hammer at the ready, as he fixed the brakes on his truck. "They could take off and go to Mexico or they could hide in the area of these houses."
Local and federal officials were searching late into the night Wednesday for the six men — a former McAllen cop about to go on trial on drug charges and five Mexican nationals charged with repeated immigration violations.
The group apparently overpowered a young guard, then somehow escaped through a door of the East Hidalgo Detention Center late Tuesday, using wire cutters to slip through four lines of fences — including one that was electrified.
Authorities set up a perimeter shortly after the 9:45 p.m. breakout in this tiny town in the middle of fields either thick with sugarcane or muddied from recent rains.
But bloodhounds lost one of two trails about a half-mile away when the scent stopped at Texas 107, leading officials to believe at least some of the fugitives were picked up.
Jose Magallan Jr., a McAllen-based spokesman for the U.S. marshals, said this is one of the largest escapes of federal inmates in the region that he could recall.
"That is why we have a massive manhunt for them," he said.
Twenty U.S. marshals led the search, which included dozens of investigators from local, state and federal agencies.
The agency is questioning all employees at the detention center, which is routine, he said. He didn't discount the possibility that employees may have aided the fugitives, as some area residents suspect.
"You always look at everything, possibly it was an inside job," he said. "We don't know; we are still looking into that."
All six of the escapees, considered armed and dangerous, were being held on federal charges, including Francisco Javier Meza Rojas Jr., 41, the former police officer arrested in April as part of a family cocaine ring referred to as the Meza Drug Trafficking Organization in an affidavit.
The ring allegedly included another brother, Jesus, who also was a one-time Edinburg cop and is now out on bond.
The remaining five fugitives are Joel Armando Mata Castro, 32; Vicente Mendiola Garcia, 34; Saul Leonard Salazar Aguirre, 24; Fernando Garza Cruz, 20; and Enrique Saenz Peña, 38. They are believed to be members of La Raza Unida gang, authorities said.
All six men have family in the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico, which is about 15 miles away.
Officers Still Searching for Fugitives