ICE sought to detain 2 teen suspects in Md. girl’s gang-related death

Two teenage suspects in the gang-related killing of an Anne Arundel County, Maryland, girl had been wanted by immigration officials, according to a statement Tuesday from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Last week, Prince George’s County police arrested Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce, 16; Joel Ernesto Escobar, 17; and Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi, 14, on charges of murder in the killing of 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz, whose body was found in a creek near 64th Avenue in Riverdale, just west of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar are in the country illegally, according to ICE.

Officers had lodged a detainer on the two, ICE said, when they were arrested by Prince George’s County police on May 11, 2018, on charges of attempted murder, gang activity and other related charges. But they were not notified, they said, when the pair were released.

A spokesman for the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said in a statement that Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar were not in the county’s correction facility when they were released, and so no notification was provided to ICE.

A court order resulted in their transfer to the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, a state facility, four days after they were arrested, Andrew Cephas with the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said.

“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. The Department of Corrections follows policy to inform the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency whenever individuals with detainers are released from its custody. Because the aforementioned individuals were no longer in the Department of Corrections custody, no notification was provided to ICE,” Cephas said.

Fuentes-Ponce arrived in Texas in 2015 as part of a family unit. In 2017, a judge ordered his removal from the country, but Fuentes-Ponce remained.

Immigration officials found Escobar — an unaccompanied minor — in 2016 in Texas. The Office of Refugee Resettlement released him to family in the D.C. area.

ICE has lodged another detainer on the two.

“As law enforcement officers, we must continue to serve and protect the American public and act in the interest of public safety first,” said Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte. “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.”

Fuentes-Ponce, Escobar, Hernandez-Nucamendi and a fourth unidentified suspect turned on Funes-Diaz, who they were afraid would go to the police about a kidnapping and robbery in which all five participated, said Maj. Brian Reilly of Prince George’s County police.

The four drove to a wooded area and allegedly attacked Funes-Diaz with a baseball ball and  machete.

Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar were members of MS-13, Reilly said.

“This is a gang that turned on an associate, and extreme violence was used,” Reilly said. He added that as far as he knew, there was no connection with other gang-related killings.

See NBC Washington’s coverage below.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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