Authorities: Suspect shot dead while rescuing migrants

HOUSTON (AP) – The hostage rescue that led to the fatal shooting of a suspect in Houston on Thursday began days ago when three migrants were kidnapped from a car in a neighboring county, prosecutors said.

The three migrants were traveling in Car 10 in southern Waller County on March 18 when they were stopped by kidnappers and forced into another car, said Sean Whitmore, a prosecutor with the Waller County District Attorney’s Office.

The migrants’ driver is believed to have called 911 and reported the abduction to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, Whitmore said. The sheriff’s office later worked with the FBI, whose agents were involved in a shooting Thursday morning in north Houston that saved two lives.

The kidnappers demanded money from the family of at least one of the migrants and paid them, but then they asked for more, according to the person familiar with the case. The kidnappers sent the family a video they shared with law enforcement that showed the kidnappers armed and the hostages alive, including one of them beating one of the hostages, an elderly man, the person said.

A shootout broke out between FBI agents and the hostages before dawn Thursday, killing one of the kidnappers and arresting the other, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Agents with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team were rescuing the migrants when the shooting broke out, James Smith, a special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston office, said during a brief press conference Thursday where he did not take questions.

One suspect was fatally shot and the other suspect was taken into custody by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Smith said. Chief Deputy Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said he could not release information about the suspect because the man was arrested by the FBI.

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Agents rescued two people who were inside the motel, Smith said.

After the press conference, Whitmore told The Associated Press that he was still coming to terms with the fact that three people had been kidnapped. He referred questions about the discrepancy to the FBI. Smith did not address the discrepancy during the press conference.

Smith said no agents were injured and an FBI review team will investigate the shooting.

“In the interest of protecting the integrity of the ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide further details at this time,” Smith said.

The FBI’s Houston office declined to comment on how the migrants were found, what led to the shooting or how many agents were involved.

The FBI said there was no longer a threat to public safety after the shooting.

The kidnapped migrants entered the United States illegally from Mexico, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Whitmore declined to comment on the migrants’ immigration status, nationality or illegal transportation at the time of their abduction.

In an email, Tim Oberle, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to discuss the people’s immigration status and referred all questions to the FBI.


Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

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