MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) — Authorities are investigating a possible police connection to the killing of three U.S. citizens visiting their father in Mexico who were found shot to death along with a Mexican friend more than two weeks after going missing.
Parents of the three siblings, whose bodies were identified Thursday, have said witnesses reported they were seized by men dressed in police gear calling themselves "Hercules," a tactical security unit in the violent border city of Matamoros wracked by cartel infighting. Nine of the unit's 40 officers are being questioned, Tamaulipas state Attorney General Ismael Quintanilla Acosta said.
It would be the third recent case of alleged abuse and killings by Mexican security forces.
The country is already convulsed by the case of 43 students from a teachers college in the southern state of Guerrero, their disappearance blamed on a mayor and police working with a drug cartel. Fifty-six people are under arrest, including dozens of police officers.
In a separate case in June, soldiers killed 22 suspected gang members in Mexico state, then altered the scene and intimidated witnesses to hide the fact that most of the dead were executed after they surrendered, a National Commission on Human Rights report said last week. Three soldiers face murder charges.
"We will apply the full force of the law and zero tolerance," Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu said of the latest case, lamenting the death of the three Americans and a Mexican citizen, even though their identities had yet to be confirmed by DNA.
Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez declined to comment when asked about the newest case. The U.S. Embassy said it was aware of the reports but had no information to share "due to privacy considerations."
The father of the three Americans, Pedro Alvarado, identified his children from photographs of the bodies showing tattoos, Quintanilla told Radio Formula. Clothing found with the bodies also matched that of Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, and her brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, who disappeared Oct. 13 along with Jose Guadalupe Castaneda Benitez, Erica Alvarado's 32-year-old boyfriend.
Each was shot in the head and the bodies were burned, most likely from lying in the hot sun for so long, Quintanilla said.
Tamaulipas authorities said it could take 24 to 48 hours for DNA tests to further confirm that the bodies were those of the Alvarado siblings, who were last seen in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros, about to return home to Progreso, Texas.
"They were good kids," said an aunt, Nohemi Gonzalez. "I don't know why they did that to them."
The three siblings shared their mother's modest brick home on a quiet street in Progreso less than three miles from the border. Erica, who has four children between the ages of 3 and 9, had been scheduled to begin studying next month to become a nursing assistant.
Brothers Jose Angel and Alex had been set to make their annual pilgrimage to Missouri as migrant farm workers more than a week ago, Gonzalez said. When they weren't on the road, they divided their time between their mother's house in Texas and their father's in Mexico.
On Sunday, Oct. 12, Erica drove her black Jeep Cherokee across the border to El Control. She dropped it at her father's house and went to visit with her boyfriend.
Her mother, Raquel Alvarado, had told her to be back in Progreso by early Monday morning, because Raquel had to work and Erica's kids had to get to school. Raquel put the kids to bed Sunday night and awoke at 4 a.m. to see Erica was not home. She began calling her daughter's cellphone and continued through the morning. "I'm always worried about her when she goes over there," the mother said.
Around 1 p.m., she reached her former husband. He told her Erica had called her brothers and asked them to bring her Jeep to a roadside restaurant under a bridge near El Control where she was eating with her boyfriend. One brother drove her Jeep and the other drove his Chevrolet Tahoe because they all planned to return to Progreso from there.
According to Raquel Alvarado, witnesses told family members that the brothers arrived around 12:30 p.m. and saw members of the police unit called Hercules pushing their sister and Castaneda and hitting Erica. When the brothers intervened, the police took all four of them, along with their vehicles. The witnesses said the armed men identified themselves as members of the Hercules unit and warned against intervening.
The Alvarados say they later found their children's cars at an import car lot belonging to Luis Alfredo Biasi, Matamoros director of social services. Quintanilla could not confirm that. Biasi did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Mayor Leticia Salazar officially introduced Hercules in September as a group with particular skills to confront crime in high-risk operations, according to a press release.
City Clerk Joe Mariano Vega, who was identified in the release as the group's commander, said in an interview earlier this year that Hercules was comprised of former marines and soldiers who policed hot zones for crime in the city's neighborhoods.
Neither Salazar nor the city's spokeswoman returned messages seeking comment.
Quintanilla said he saw no reason so far to interview Salazar or Biasi in the Alvarado case.
MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — Onlookers shouted "Are you sorry?" and "Why did you do it?" as a gaunt and battered-looking Eric Frein — the survivalist suspected in the ambush slaying of a Pennsylvania state trooper — was led from court Friday, the morning after his capture ended a grueling seven-week manhunt.
Frein, 31, had a bloody gash on the bridge of his nose and a scrape over his left eye as he answered a judge's yes-or-no questions and listened to the complaint detailing the Sept. 12 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass outside their state police barracks.
Frein did not have a lawyer and was not asked to enter a plea to first-degree murder and other charges, including possession of two pipe bombs discovered during the manhunt. He remained jailed without bail. A preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 12.
Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who said he would seek the death penalty, told reporters that Frein's capture Thursday evening brought a measure of comfort to the region after an "unimaginable loss of unspeakable proportions."
"We have now started to find the answers that the community desired in this case," Tonkin said.
State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said troopers had interviewed Frein, but Bivens would not disclose what he told them or discuss a possible motive. Authorities have said Frein had expressed anti-law enforcement views online and to people who knew him.
Frein's capture in an abandoned airplane hangar ended a 48-day dragnet that involved hundreds of law officers. They fanned out across the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, searching through impenetrable woods and forbidding caves, schools and vacation homes.
In the end, Frein was captured without a shot, surrendering meekly around dusk to a team of U.S. marshals who stumbled across him some 30 miles from the barracks where he allegedly opened fire. He knelt and put his hands up when he was caught, authorities said.
Authorities placed Frein in Dickson's handcuffs and put him in Dickson's squad car for the ride back to the Blooming Grove barracks.
Frein's capture, Bivens said, "was not the result of a tip or a sighting. This was a result of ongoing pressure put on Frein by law enforcement."
Asked about Frein's wounds, Bivens said that there was no struggle with law enforcement and that Frein got hurt while he was on the run.
Bivens put the cost of the manhunt at about $10 million.
The quiet takedown of Frein ended weeks of tension and turmoil in the area, as authorities at times closed schools, canceled football games and church services and blockaded roads. Residents grew weary of hearing helicopters, while small businesses suffered mounting losses. At times, residents were ordered to stay indoors or were prevented from reaching their homes.
With Frein's capture, plans for trick-or-treating in Barrett Township were back on.
"We as a town think the kids have gone through enough," said Ralph Megliola, chairman of the township board of supervisors.
Joe Fagan, 56, of Milford, was the first in line to enter the courtroom Friday.
"To be honest, I just wanted to see what evil looked like," he said. "He had zero emotion."
State police said they didn't know whether Frein, who was unarmed but had high-powered weaponry nearby, had been using the hangar as a shelter during his seven weeks on the run. They found him wearing camouflage pants and a dark hooded sweatshirt.
"He did not just give up because he was tired," state police Commissioner Frank Noonan said. "He gave up because he was caught."
Bivens said that Frein broke into cabins and other structures for food and shelter while on the run, and that there was no evidence anyone helped him.
Dickson's family, as well as Douglass and his family, expressed "relief and gratitude" over Frein's arrest, Noonan said.
Police said they linked Frein to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene.
Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks as well as Frein's driver's license, camouflage face paint, two empty rifle cases and military gear.
Helen Blackmore, who lives in nearby Cresco, was ready for things to back to normal.
"It was very crazy here. The helicopters were out all the time. Nobody was sleeping," she said. "We're very relieved."
MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) — Virgin Galactic has reported an unspecified problem during a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket.
The company tweeted Friday morning that SpaceShipTwo was flying under rocket power and then tweeted that it had "experienced an in-flight anomaly." The tweet said more information would be forthcoming.
Kern County Fire Department reports it is heading to a location in the Mojave Desert. California Highway Patrol Officer Darlena Dotson says the agency is responding to a report of a crash in the Cantil area.
SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport in the desert northeast of Los Angeles.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by a specially designed jet and then released before igniting its rocket for suborbital thrill ride into space and then a return to Earth as a glider.
MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) — A Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket exploded after taking off on a test flight in Southern California's Mojave Desert, a witness said Friday.
At least one was dead and another was injured, California Highway Patrol said. The SpaceShipTwo rocket is typically flown by a crew of two pilots and has been under development at Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert northeast of Los Angeles.
"During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo," Virgin Galactic tweeted Friday.
Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, said the space tourism craft exploded after it was released from a plane that carries it to a high altitude.
The company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson would not say what happened other that it was working with authorities to determine the cause of the "accident."
Virgin Galactic has been the front-runner in the fledgling space-tourism industry.
SpaceShipTwo was designed to be carried aloft by a specially designed jet and then released before igniting its rocket for suborbital thrill ride into space and then a return to Earth as a glider.
Virgin Galactic, once it finished developing its rocket ship, was going to launch space tourism flights from the quarter-billion-dollar Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — An attorney for the man accused of abducting University of Virginia student Hannah Graham said Friday that he wants his client to be evaluated to determine his sanity.
Attorney James Camblos made the request for a psychiatric evaluation at an arraignment for Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, in Fairfax County Circuit Court, where he's charged in a 2005 sexual assault unrelated to Graham's disappearance and death.
Matthew is charged in Fairfax with abduction with intent to defile, attempted capital murder and sexual penetration in connection with a September 2005 assault on a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City. He is charged in Charlottesville with the abduction of Graham with the intent to defile, but is not yet facing murder charges.
Authorities say they also have forensic evidence linking him to the 2009 disappearance and death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.
At Friday's hearing, the judge took no action on Camblos' request for a psychiatric evaluation, deferring it until a later date.
Most of Friday's hearing, in which Matthew appeared via video hookup from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, concerned who would represent Matthew. The judge appointed both the Fairfax County public defender and Camblos to represent Matthew as co-counsel, over the objections of Camblos and Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh.
Matthew requested that Camblos, who is representing Matthew in the Graham case, be appointed to handle the Fairfax case as well.
"I would prefer Mr. Camblos to be my attorney, if possible. I've built a relationship with him," Matthew said, with Camblos at his side at the Charlottesville-area jail.
Camblos objected to the idea of serving as co-counsel with the Fairfax public defenders, saying it would amount to "two chiefs, not enough Indians." Morrogh objected on the basis that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money to have both appointed.
But the judge, Dennis Smith, said the two ought to be able to work together, and bringing both onto the case should ensure that the trial is not delayed. He said the law requires the public defender be appointed except in unusual circumstances.
There was clearly some tension between Camblos and the public defender's office — after both were appointed, Camblos told the judge Chief Public Defender Todd Petit had offered to allow Camblos to serve as lead counsel in the event both were appointed. Petit told the judge he had indeed made such an offer, but Camblos had rejected it and Petit now wanted his deputy, Dawn Butorac, to serve as lead counsel. The judge said he would leave the two of them to decide who would be lead.
Butorac declined comment after Friday's hearing.
Another hearing was set for Nov. 14 to set a trial date.
After Friday's hearing, Morrogh said he will continue to consult with prosecutors in the Charlottesville area to determine which case should go to trial first, and that he is prepared to go first or last. He said that, ideally, he'd like the trial to be able to go forward within six months.
He said the victim in the 2005 assault is no longer in the country, but is cooperating with investigators and will be available to testify at trial.
Graham, an 18-year-old sophomore, went missing in Charlottesville Sept. 13. After a monthlong search, her remains were found in mid-October.