Police: 'Death saint' prayer tied to carjacking

McALLEN, TX But authorities say the ad hoc gang assembled by Claudia Elena Gomez, a Mexican citizen living in McAllen, mistakenly targeted an off-duty Border Patrol agent who was driving his 10-year-old daughter to see her grandmother in south Texas.

Gomez and five others have been charged in connection with the mistaken carjacking.

Sometime after 1 a.m. on June 24, Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Charles Russell Klingburg was nearing the end of his drive from Arizona to the Rio Grande Valley to deliver his daughter.

Unknown to him, a local woman was returning to the Valley in a similar grey Cadillac sedan. That woman had paid Gomez before to pray to the Santisima Muerte, or "death saint" -- a figure popular with drug traffickers asking for protection from law enforcement or rivals.

Authorities say the woman had called Gomez to say that she was returning from Michigan with money -- a trip she made every 15 days -- and asked for a prayer.

"She (Gomez) decided she wanted some of that money," said Mission Police investigator Ricardo Perez Jr., saying Gomez planned a "rip," or robbery of drug proceeds.

Gomez stayed in contact with the woman, Perez said, repeatedly asking her location as the alleged accomplices watched from various points along the highway.

By the time Klingburg reached McAllen, he was aware that three pickup trucks were following him. When he reached Mission, he exited the highway and one truck followed him into a country club subdivision. When it blocked his escape from a cul-de-sac, a man got out of the passenger side and knocked on his window, displaying a pistol, Perez said.

Klingburg showed his own gun and the man retreated. Klingburg drove away, but the truck followed. The truck's passenger leaned out the window, pointing the gun at Klingburg, who immediately hit the brakes. A shot hit the lower driver side corner of Klingburg's windshield, but neither he nor his daughter were injured. The truck took off, but Klingburg relayed the license plate to Mission police, according to Perez and court records.

While speaking to police at a nearby restaurant, Klingburg saw a pickup drive by that he recognized as another truck that had followed him. Police stopped it and found inside Gomez and three others, Perez said.

Police eventually found the pickup that carried the shooter at Gomez's house and recovered a .22-caliber pistol and a spent shell casing from the truck, Perez said. They also found a shrine to the Santisima Muerte in Gomez's garage. Police identified the shooter as Daoberto Navarro Pompa, a Mexican citizen in country illegally. Pompa, one of those charged in connection with the carjacking, waived his right to a hearing Tuesday. He has not yet entered a plea.

Maria Teresa De La Rosa, who was driving the pickup carrying Gomez, did not waive her probable cause hearing Tuesday, but was ordered held without bond by U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby.

De La Rosa's attorney, Reynaldo Merino, questioned Perez about the extent to which his client was involved, saying she was receiving instructions from another of those charged in the carjacking, Juan Vite Martinez. Martinez waived his probable cause hearing. Neither has entered a plea.

Gomez, who had not yet retained a lawyer, is scheduled to appear before Ormsby on Thursday.

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