1 killed in hostage rescue that ended in shooting involving FBI in Greenspoint area, agency says

Friday, March 24, 2023
1 person shot to death by FBI at motel in Greenspoint, agency says
SkyEye video shows a tarp covering the open door to one of the motel rooms. ABC13 watched agents go in and out of that room and another one two doors down.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A suspect was killed by an FBI agent Thursday morning during a hostage rescue in the Greenspoint area, the law enforcement agency confirmed in an update.

Throughout most of the day Thursday, FBI agents were seen continuing their investigation at the Studio 6 extended stay motel off the Beltway, where the deadly shooting happened.

Video shared with ABC13 showed the FBI's hostage rescue team using a flash-bang device as they breached a motel door.

"It was crazy," guest Zephaniah Washington said. "I just heard a bunch of bangs. It woke me up out of my sleep. I thought it was a crash at first but then I looked outside and then I saw them all coming up the stairs."

According to FBI Houston Special Agent in charge James Smith, the operation began on Tuesday as a request to help from the Waller County Sheriff's Office. They said it became an FBI-led investigation due to the kidnapping of several people.

Migrants had been traveling in a vehicle on I-10 in the southern part of Waller County on March 18 when they were stopped by kidnappers and forced into another vehicle, said Sean Whittmore, a prosecutor with the Waller County District Attorney's Office.

In details reported by the Associated Press, Whittmore said it is believed the migrants' driver called 911 and informed the Waller County Sheriff's Office about the kidnapping. The sheriff's office later worked with the FBI, whose agents were involved in the shooting.

The kidnappers demanded money from the family of at least one of the migrants and were paid, but then they asked for more, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person said that the kidnappers sent the family videos, which they shared with law enforcement, showing that the kidnappers were armed and the hostages were alive, including one of them beating one of the hostages, an older man.

"I think a lot of times the priority is getting money, power, and they'll do anything to keep getting money, including harming innocent people," immigration attorney Molly Full of Naimeh Salem & Associates, said.

Full is not related to the case but said her law firm is often contacted by families of victims held by human traffickers. "The nature of our work, we are always talking to people in desperate situations," she said.

The FBI said around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday shots were fired as the team was rescuing the victims.

Smith said one suspect was fatally shot, and the Harris County Sheriff's Office took a second suspect into custody.

Two hostages were safely rescued and no FBI agents were injured, authorities said.

The identity of the suspect who was killed has not yet been released.

"In the interest of protecting the integrity of the ongoing investigation, we cannot provide any more details at this time," Smith said.

The FBI's Houston office declined to comment on how they found the migrants, what led up to the shooting, or how many agents were involved.

The kidnapped migrants allegedly had crossed into the U.S. illegally from Mexico, according to a person familiar with the case.

Whittmore declined to comment on the migrants' immigration status, nationalities, or whether they were being illegally transported at the time of their kidnapping.

An FBI Shooting Incident Review will handle the investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.