In a collaborative effort between the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) and neighboring law enforcement agencies, three individuals have been apprehended and face multiple charges related to the kidnapping and smuggling of undocumented immigrants.
The suspects, identified as Mason Castillo, Robert Cruz, and Jeremiah Villarreal, were arrested on various charges, including Smuggling of Persons, Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity, Aggravated Robbery, and Aggravated Kidnapping for Ransom/Reward.
The investigation, led solely by SMPD, was initiated in August when a group of immigrants was illegally transported from Mexico to Austin and subsequently abducted during their journey to an undisclosed location. Detective Casey Tennant of the San Marcos Police Department stated, "The investigation took about four weeks until sufficient probable cause was developed to issue arrest warrants on all three suspects and for the issuance of multiple search warrants."
The three suspects allegedly held at least ten undocumented immigrants against their will until they paid a substantial amount of cash. Victims reported being confined in a San Marcos residence, although the exact location remained unknown. Through a thorough analysis of video footage from a local business and calculations based on the time of travel, investigators were able to pinpoint the victims' whereabouts.
Additionally, law enforcement identified the suspects through information provided by the victims, surveillance footage, and digital forensics from a cell phone. It was later discovered that Castillo and Villarreal had prior criminal records related to smuggling of persons.
On Thursday, September 7, SMPD officers, with the assistance of several law enforcement agencies, executed search warrants at residences on Academy Street, Hillyer Street, and Lazy Lane. Participating agencies included the Hays County SWAT, Department of Public Safety SWAT, Bastrop County SWAT, New Braunfels SWAT, and Texas State University Police.
Detective Tennant explained, "Due to the threat to the safety of the potential victims being held against their will and the multiple locations being searched, multiple SWAT teams were needed to execute the search warrants safely." University Police also provided assistance due to the operation's proximity to the campus.
While no victims were found during the arrests, evidence corroborating the serious charges against the defendants was recovered. Investigators reassured the community that the neighborhood is safe. However, SMPD urged the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.