Pallbearers carry the casket of Janelle Ortiz down the steps at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church following her funeral service, Friday, Sept. 21, in Laredo. (Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)
Trans woman among four women murdered by Laredo serial killer
Susan Montoya Bryan and Matt Sedensky
LAREDO — Janelle Ortiz dreamed of becoming famous. Melissa Ramirez imagined a day when the street wasn’t home and drugs not her preoccupation. Claudine Luera just ached to see her children do better than she had.
All of these women, bound by difficulties in life, met an eerily similar death: They were shot in the head and left on rural Texas roadsides, allegedly by a Border Patrol agent who has been described as a serial killer. Relatives of the dead are now grieving for loved ones who, they say, were more than the troubles they endured.
“They had families. They were loved. They were someone. They were human,” said Colette Mireles, a sister of Luera.
The suspect’s motive remains unknown. Authorities said the three women and a fourth woman, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, were sex workers, and that Border Patrol supervisor Juan David Ortiz knew some of them.
Each lived a life littered with hardship. Gracie Perez remembered her sister-in-law, 29-year-old Ramirez, telling her she was raped when she was 13. She dropped out of high school, experienced depression and eventually began living on the streets. Her five children were left in the care of others. She struggled with a drug habit.
Despite all of that, her relatives remembered someone always trying to make others laugh. “She wanted to be a better mom, a better person,” Perez said. “She didn’t want to be running the streets anymore.”
Janelle Ortiz, 28, — a trans woman initially misgendered and dead-named by officials and the media — envisioned a future where her personality and gift for talking with nearly anyone transformed her into someone famous.
Rosenda Ortiz, her younger sister, remembered the difficult childhood they shared, with them constantly being thrust into new homes. She said her sister was strong and had a big heart, always asking what others needed.
Rosenda Ortiz hoped that one day she’d be able to get a home of her own and invite her sister to come live with her.
“He was not known as a prostitute or a sex worker,” Rosenda Ortiz said, using pronouns she knows her transgender sister would have chided her for. “He was just a human being like the other victims. He was just living his life.”
Funeral services were held Friday, Sept 21, for Janelle Ortiz and Luera. During Janelle Ortiz’s service, the Rev. Edmundo Lopez Jr. said, “We’ve seen so many families afflicted, hit down, a life too short.”
Mireles last talked to her 42-year-old sister two days before her body was found. She was “over the moon” upon hearing that one of her sons was doing well in school and was already ironing out plans for prom with his girlfriend.
Sedensky reported from New York.