Held Captive

Coyotes who smuggle immigrants torture and extort their victims, helped by out government's failure to enact immigration reform.

In an interview, Marisol said she prayed she would make it back safely to her husband and two children. She and her brother eventually did, but not before they were intercepted in the desert by eight gunmen.

The bajadores barked at the migrants to stand in a circle and then get down on their knees. One by one, they pressed the barrels of their guns to their victims' heads and forced them to hand over cash and anything of value, including shoes and belts. They forced the men to take off their pants and underwear and do squats to make sure they weren't concealing money, jewelry, or drugs in their rectums. They probed the women's body cavities by hand.

One of the men put his gun to Marisol's temple. He looked directly into her eyes as he slipped his hand under her shirt and fondled her breasts on his way to checking whether she was concealing money or jewelry. She says she didn't look away, not even when the man shoved his hand down her pants. She says she didn't try to hide the fear and anger in her eyes.

Karley Saucedo was snatched by four armed men from a Phoenix home where she was sleeping. The kidnappers held her hostage for 14 days before she was rescued by police.
Karley Saucedo was snatched by four armed men from a Phoenix home where she was sleeping. The kidnappers held her hostage for 14 days before she was rescued by police.

As he was about to slip his fingers inside her, his hand brushed against a panty liner inside her underwear.

"Are you on your period?" he asked, disgusted.

"Yes," she lied.

He yanked out his hand and moved on to his next victim. Marisol was relieved that he didn't check her mouth and find the 14-karat-gold chain her sister had given her for luck.

"Nothing like that had ever happened to me," she says. "It's just horrible, because you can't defend yourself. I just kept thinking, 'How can they do this to us? They know what will happen to us if we don't have money. How can they not have a soul?'"

Later, Marisol and the others encountered another band of robbers, but had nothing of value left to give. They were searched — and violated — a second time and then allowed to continue.

The group finally reached the designated spot in the Arizona desert, where they waited for a van to drive them to Phoenix. Marisol and the others lay facedown on the summer-rain-soaked ground to avoid detection. Her aching body welcomed the two-hour rest. She didn't care about the mud, or the flies and bugs that crawled on her.The van arrived, stopping about half a mile away. They were told to run as fast as they could until they reached it. With all the energy they had left, Marisol and the others sprinted to the van and jumped in.

"We got to a house in south Phoenix, and they fed us," she recalls. "There were men guarding the door with guns. They kept us there until ... our families came with the money."

Her husband paid to free her and her brother. "People come [to the United States] out of necessity, but some here don't understand that," she says. "No one wants to travel back and forth to their native country like this. It feels like we're trapped. People think we're happy living this way. They're wrong."

The human-rights organization Coalición de Derechos Humanos reported that between Oct. 1 and June 30, authorities recovered 153 bodies in the Sonoran Desert. Though many are believed to be those of border crossers who succumbed to extreme temperatures and the harsh terrain, medical examiners determined that five died of gunshot wounds and seven of blunt-force injuries. Sixty-seven were so badly decomposed that the cause of death could not be determined.

Authorities don't know how many smuggling organizations operate in metro Phoenix. What they do know is that smugglers have brought violent crime to area cities — some of it in broad daylight.

"Life is cheap for these people," Police Commander Brent Vermeer says of the kidnappers operating there.

Though the Phoenix area isn't like Mexico — where crime syndicates make fortunes kidnapping random powerful and rich people (or sometimes their children) and extorting their families — victims have been kidnapped there.

At about 3 a.m. on May 5, four men with handguns stormed a house where U.S. citizens Estephany Saucedo; her infant child; and her mentally challenged 22-year-old sister, Karley, were sleeping.

The men demanded drugs and money. Estephany told them that they had none. Investigators believe that the men were looking to collect on a drug debt, possibly for 1,300 pounds of marijuana that had been stolen from them. Saucedo's boyfriend had ties to the suspected thieves, but he had been in jail for more than a month on unrelated charges.

The intruders didn't care. One way or another, they intended to recover their losses. The gunmen decided to kidnap Estephany, but she told them she had to take care of her baby. So they took Karley, who has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, and held her in a house, demanding $50,000 from her family.

The captors assaulted her and threatened to cut off her fingers if the money wasn't paid. After nine days, detectives from the police department's Home Invasion and Kidnapping Enforcement Unit (HIKE) found the dwelling, and on May 19, Karley was freed by a SWAT team.

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