Prince George’s County, MD – The two MS-13 gang members believed to have murdered 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz in early May should not have been out and on the street, free to hack the girl to death with a machete and a baseball bat.
Both 16-year-old Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce and 17-year-old Joel Ernesto Escobar are in the United States illegally, WTTG reported.
And Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar, both of El Salvador, were arrested together on May 11, 2018.
That’s when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers lodged their first detainer for them with the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections (PGCDC).
The teens, both known MS-13 gang members, were facing charges of attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, participation in gang activity, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted robbery, according to an ICE bulletin published on Tuesday.
ICE said that PGCDC didn’t notify them when Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar were released.
But corrections officials quickly pointed the finger at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services as the entity that released the future killers, WTTG reported.
“A court order resulted in both individuals being transferred to the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, which is a state facility. Neither of these individuals were released to the public from the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections. They remained detained in the juvenile facility until the disposition of their cases earlier this year,” PGCDC said in a statement.
The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services has so far, for its part, played dumb.
A spokesman for the department said that Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar’s ages prevented them from releasing details, WTTG reported.
He also said that it was very rare for the state’s juvenile correctional facilities to be notified of an ICE detainer.
But even ICE said in its bulletin that they couldn’t find out when and under what circumstances the would-be murderers were released.
WTTG reported they were unable to figure out who was responsible for notifying ICE and why they did not make the notification.
Just a year after they were initially arrested on violent gang-related charges, Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar were arrested again, and are now facing murders charges as adults, WUSA reported.
Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi, 14, was also arrested and charged with murder after she admitted to police that she helped plan the attack on Funes-Diaz.
Police said Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar beat and stabbed 14-year-old Funes-Diaz to death as Hernandez-Nucamendi watched, WUSA reported.
Prince George’s County Police Major Brian Riley said investigators thought the victim had helped her killers with a gang-related robbery and kidnapping in DC on April 17.
For some reason, Fuentes-Ponce, Escobar, and Hernandez-Nucamendi believed Funes-Diaz was going to turn them in to the authorities, according to WUSA.
So they murdered her and left her body in a creek in Riverdale.
All three were arrested on May 16 and charged with first-degree murder, according to the ICE bulletin.
“These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before, and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life,” ICE Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte said.
Police initially believed that Hernandez-Nucamendi was only a witness to the horrible killing, but she later confessed that she had stood at the entrance to the tunnel and watched as Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar stabbed and beat the other 14 year old to death, WUSA reported.
She told police that she watched Fuentes-Ponce clean the blood off his machete in the creek and later led investigators to that murder weapon.
Court documents revealed that there is another unknown suspect on investigators’ radar.
Hernandez-Nucamendi told police that a fourth participant had filmed the murder on a cell phone, according to WUSA.
Police are now searching for the fourth suspect.
ICE officers have lodged detainers, for the second time now, for Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar with PGCDC.
The ICE bulletin said ICE officers would “seek to take custody of these public safety threats pending the outcome of their criminal proceedings.”