Kidnappers free Texan, Mexican
November 29, 2006
LAREDO, Texas - Two of the five men kidnapped in Mexico were released Wednesday, but a prominent Laredo businessman and his son remain hostages, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.
The men were abducted Sunday when 30 to 40 armed men stormed the La Barranca hunting ranch in Mexico near the border south of Laredo, authorities said. It's the latest incident in a violence-plagued region where there are at least 20 unresolved cases in the last two years involving kidnapped U.S. citizens.
The FBI in San Antonio identified the Texans as Librado Pina Jr., 49; his son Librado Pina III, 25; and David Mueller, 45, of the Sweetwater area. Mueller and Fidel Rodriguez Cerdan, a businessman from Monterrey, Mexico, were freed Wednesday, authorities said.
The other man held hostage is Marco Ortiz, a cook at the hunting ranch, Coahuila state prosecutor Jesus Torres said.
Mueller "showed signs of being roughed up" but did not require hospitalization, FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said. "He had some bruising and evidence of some swelling where he was handcuffed."
Steve Mueller, David Mueller's brother, said he spoke to his brother on the phone early Wednesday.
"He said he's doing fine and is ready to get cleaned up and get some rest," Steve Mueller said.
The kidnappers have not made a ransom demand, Vasys said.
The elder Pina owns the popular deer-hunting ranch near Hidalgo in Coahuila, about 40 miles northwest of Nuevo Laredo. Santos Vasquez Estrada, the local head of the Coahuila state attorney general's office, said the elder Pina may have been the target of the attack.
A relative of Pina suggested the kidnappings were a crime of opportunity.
"It's just a random act," said Martha Pina Garcia, the sister of the elder Pina. "They saw a huge house, probably. It's a hunting ranch, so he brings clients and customers all the time."
According to Vasquez Estrada, two ranch employees said they saw the attackers handcuff the elder Pina and keep him apart from the others. Vasquez Estrada also said the assailants stole five all-terrain vehicles, two pickup trucks, furnishings, appliances and even food and wine from the ranch.
In Laredo, people were stunned by the kidnapping. United Baptist Church, where the elder Pina is a member, scheduled all-night prayer vigils Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We're there to pray for them," Pina Garcia said. "We were praying for all five of them. They're all someone's family member."
Pastor Mike Barrera cited a time when Librado Jr. funded the uniforms for a local youth baseball team on the spot, writing out a check without even identifying himself.
"He's a no credit kind of guy. He just wants to help people - that's who he is," Barrera said.
Barrera said that when Librado Jr. was building his ranch house in Coahuila, he hired many local people to do the work.
"Here, Librado provided for whole families," Barrera said.
The Pina family has run an import-export business, Librado Pina Inc., for more than 50 years, Pina Garcia said. Librado Pina III is married with two children and works for the family business, she said.
Pina Garcia said she couldn't believe anyone would have reason to harm her family.
"They've always been an upstanding company, very large import-export company, very well-known in the community, very well-respected," she said. "Had he been aware or threatened in any form or fashion, he would never have taken family out there."
In September, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza warned Americans to stay vigilant when traveling to Mexico and singled out Nuevo Laredo, across the river from Laredo, Texas, as being particularly dangerous. Garza said there were at least 20 unresolved kidnapping cases involving Americans.
The week Garza issued his warning, armed men went into a Nuevo Laredo hotel and held up 25 people who were going to work for a Texas-based company, assaulting and threatening to kill them.