MS-13 suspect snared; accused of shootout with HPD and FBI, beheadings in Honduras
By Mike Glenn, Staff
The Houston Chronicle
A suspected member of the violent MS-13 gang evaded capture for several months after a shootout last year with police and the FBI in Houston, crossing into his native Honduras where authorities accused him of the Christmas Day decapitations of his former in-laws.
Also taken into custody were Zelaya-Zelaya's brother, Pablo Romero, 31; Miguel Estrada, 21; Johnny Fernandez, 27; Marlin Turcios, 20; and Marcos Caldron, 24.
They were charged with evading arrest and also face federal immigration charges, police said.
Zelaya-Zelaya, also known as Flaco, had taken part in the Sept. 22 attempted holdup of illegal immigrants at a motel in the 8900 block of the Gulf Freeway, investigators said.
"They never actually got to rob them," said Shauna Dunlap, with the Houston FBI office. "We prevented the robberies before they could take place."
One FBI agent was wounded in the shootout.
Although five people were taken into custody after the botched holdup, Zelaya-Zelaya managed to escape.
"He knew that we were looking for him. He went back to Honduras," said Capt. Mike Graham, with the Houston Police Department's gang unit.
Zelaya-Zelaya surfaced on Christmas Day in Honduras, where authorities there accused him and Romero in the double slaying of Eleazar and Suyapa Vasquez.
Investigators said they thought it would only be a matter of time before Zelaya-Zelaya eventually made his way back to Houston after the killings. "But we just didn't know when," Graham said.
Zelaya-Zelaya was sent back to Honduras in late January 2006 but managed to make at least two other successful crossings of the border before his arrest Saturday.
"We did deport him when we identified that he was an illegal alien," said Luisa Deason, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Police say Zelaya-Zelaya's group may be responsible for a string of local crimes, including at least four kidnapping cases that targeted illegal immigrants or their smugglers.
The victims are often hesitant to come forward, officials said.
"These types of criminals prey on individuals that they know will not go to law enforcement," Dunlap said. "They are kidnapping and robbing illegal aliens, holding them for ransom."
FBI officials declined to comment Tuesday on specifics of the kidnapping cases, citing the ongoing investigation.
According to Interpol, Zelaya-Zelaya also is wanted for questioning about a December 2004 attack on a bus in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that killed 37 people, authorities said.
But "he's not officially been named a suspect," Dunlap said.
It wasn't known Tuesday whether government officials in Honduras will seek an immediate extradition of Zelaya-Zelaya or his brother. Officials with the Honduran Consulate in Houston could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"We are still working with (the Honduran authorities) to determine the protocol on what exactly will happen with these individuals," Dunlap said.
Though MS-13 operates in several major cities throughout the country, HPD officials said they are loosely organized and transient.
"They may be here for a month or two then they may scoot off to another city here in the U.S., or they may go back home," Graham said.
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