Seized: Inside the Brutal World of America's Kidnapping Capital

Maria was drifting off to sleep on the bedroom floor. She could hear women getting raped in the next room. Only she didn't hear screams — she heard the laughter of male guards.

The women had been drugged by their rapists, who had done the same to Maria as soon as she walked into the house. They forced her to swallow a red liquid and handed her some chalky, white pills. She drank the liquid and tucked the pills on the side of her mouth, but they were slowly dissolving.

The drugs were beginning to deaden her senses.

Graham Smith
A kidnapping victim rescued by the Phoenix Police Department's Home Invasion and Kidnapping Enforcement unit.
Courtesy of Phoenix Police Department/Home Invasion Kidnapping Enforcement (HIKE)
A kidnapping victim rescued by the Phoenix Police Department's Home Invasion and Kidnapping Enforcement unit.

Details

Maria had arrived at the modest three-bedroom house in west Phoenix several days earlier in the back of a white van. She was one of about a dozen other immigrants who had hired coyotes to smuggle them into the United States in May. They each paid the human smugglers about $1,800 to guide them safely through the treacherous Arizona desert.

Their guides betrayed them. They delivered them to other coyotes, who were more vicious than their counterparts. The kidnappers demanded another $1,700 apiece for Maria and the 12 others, including two young boys, they were holding.

The armed captors had tried to lock up Maria in the same room with the other women. She was gripped by fear as she watched one of the guards stripping off the women's clothes.

Maria's husband argued with the kidnappers, telling them that she was sick, that he needed to keep an eye on her. Rather than hassle with a couple of the pollos (smugglers' slang for their cargo), the guards allowed them to stay together.

Along with the men, the smugglers stashed her in the master bedroom.

When it was safe, she pulled the pills out of her mouth and gave them to her husband. He slipped them into the pocket of his white-washed jeans.

She looked around the bare bedroom at the men sitting on the floor. They were tired and worn. There was a large piece of plywood nailed over the window; a deadbolt on the door that locked from the outside.

There was no escape.

The pollos had come from poverty-stricken towns in Mexico and Guatemala in search of a better existence. Maria later told New Times that she and her husband had hoped to find work; back home in Mexico, jobs were scarce, and the lucky few who found them earned a meager 100 pesos for a full day's work. Less than $7.80 a day.

The promise of making living wages is what drove Maria and the others to walk through the desert for eight days, crawl through tunnels, and move from camp to camp, car to car, and from one band of coyotes to another within the same smuggling operation. Money was also the motivation behind kidnappers' demands that Maria, her husband, and the other victims come up with large ransoms for their release.

The captives called their families back home, or relatives in Arizona, to plead for money they knew the families probably didn't have. Days went by as Maria's family worked to come up with more cash. The impatient guards threatened to beat their captives and dump their dead bodies in the desert if the money didn't show up.

Terrified and confused, Maria was allowed to leave the room only when it was her turn to help cook for the guards or clean the house. One of the other women told Maria that they had been in the house for more than a month. The women talked quietly while they prepared meals for the hostages — a bean burrito, a few Ramen noodles, or a boiled egg split among four people. The immigrants weren't given anything to drink; they slurped water from a bathroom sink.

While Maria and the other captives played a macabre version of house, they had no idea that a specialized team of police detectives, analysts, and U.S. immigration agents had begun a rescue mission to release them and arrest their kidnappers.

An anonymous caller had tipped off Phoenix police about the home where the illegal immigrants were held. The tip was passed on to members of a police task force called IIMPACT (Illegal Immigration Prevention Apprehension Co-op Team). The countywide effort to dismantle smuggling rings, arrest violent criminals, and rescue hostages includes detectives from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Phoenix Police Department and agents from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Investigators spent three days deciphering the tipster's information before finally pinpointing the location of the house.

Once the suburban prison was in their sights, they arranged for a SWAT team to raid the house, arrested four suspected kidnappers, and rescued the hostages, including Maria.

"The looks on their faces; they just lit up," Phoenix police Sergeant Harry Reiter, who supervises IIMPACT detectives, says of the rescued hostages. "They were so grateful. They didn't care that [they would have to] go back south of the border — they just wanted out of the kidnappers' hold."

Although removed from the coyotes' clutches, the pollos were hardly set free. They were taken into police custody, given food and beverages, and interviewed by detectives.

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116 comments
Richard1980
Richard1980

And guess who helps this happen .....your wonderful President OBama..... in and ad the other day Dan Quales son said OBama Is the worst President America ever had , he is right we will rue the day we even set eyes on his big ears Sorry to rant, this story made me feel so mad for these people... its sickening and OBama is encouraging it to happen any , doubt he favor's  Islam anyone...... he sure hates women ..no wonder sh'ed rather vacation alone http://www.protopage.com/buy-pall-mall-cigarettes http://www.protopage.com/buy-kent-cigarettes http://www.protopage.com/buy-newport-cigarettes-online http://www.protopage.com/buy-cigarettes-online-usa

babosoff30
babosoff30

this problem existed for decades before NAFTA, the term wetback was coined to refer to illegal aliens crossing at the Rio Grande at the Mexica/Texas border because a significan majority of illegal border crossers were coming in this way. I became aware of this term in the mid 70's. NAFTA did not cause this. Mexico's incompetance to govern itself competenly did. I still think this is Primarily Mexico's problem. We should fix our end by securing our border, busting those that hire and often abuse illegal laborers. http://bleacherreport.com/users/1415437-buy-duty-free-cigarettes-online-australia http://bleacherreport.com/users/1415505-buy-duty-free-cigarettes-online-canada

Laurence
Laurence

Thank you for your comments and I wish that people would look at the positive things that helps the city bring employment to those that want to earn a living, together we can solve our problems,

SFreader
SFreader

This same story appeared in the SFWeekly in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, complete with identical photos and cover art.

sombrasluz
sombrasluz

Wonderfully indepth piece! Monica, Great job! You have opened a window to a secret, evil world we live within and don't even know about it. Thanks for the peek.For those of you who read this article, I ask you to pay a bit more attention to what is going on around you. With the insight Monica and her sources revealed, (at great personal risk, I might add!) you maybe able to save someone's life, someone's innocence regardless of their birth country's origin... The signs Monica and Law Enforcement have mentioned in the past relating to smugglers and drop houses have given us enough information to notice when something might not be the way it should. For your fellow species if nothing else, please report it!

Jpepackman
Jpepackman

Good story, and lots of good research, but very slanted.

I really feel for the people of the world who live in third-world dumps, but not every one of them can move to America. What I would like Monica Alonzo to add in her story is how do these people show up on our border with that much cash in their pockets to hire a coyote?

If they are scrimping by on $7.80(100 pesos) a day, where do they come up with the money? I don't think the coyotes take credit cards or I.O.U.'s... $1800.00 is alot of money to me, it seems that same cash could go an awful long way in Mexico, in their community.

I would also like to know, how does an immigrant show up in Sonora, get off a bus and have several coyotes offer to excort them into theUnited States. How did this guy get through Mexico? Especially if he is from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, etc.. It seems to me the Mexican government doesn't really enforce their borders, if they allow this guy to travel from Southern Mexico to Northern Mexico without any form of identification, a passport, etc.

JPDL
JPDL

law-abiding illegal aliens WTF does that mean ? how can you be a law abiding and illegal at the same time fucking retarded !!

Andy
Andy

A great article, thanks.

Federale
Federale

Alonzo is lying about the legal immigration numbers. In 2008 189,989 Mexicans immigrated legally, not 26,260. You should at least get your numbers correct. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/as...

commonsenseplease
commonsenseplease

Obviously we must be, since illegals do not pay taxes. I'd gladly pay more in taxes to build a fence, or a moat, or whatever freaking else to keep people who break the law and enter our country illegally.

/would you let a stranger rent your home? babysit your kids? borrow your car? If you say no, then why the hell would you be FOR letting millions of people cross our borders without a background check? Stupid much?

more than that, if you have a class of 20 kids and 4 are illegal, at $4,000 a head, that's $16,000 in one class alone that AMERICAN TAXPAYERS have to foot the bill for.

And Americans wonder where all of the money is going in taxes, that our states are going bankrupt?

WAKE UP!!!!

Greg
Greg

Crime spilling over a national border should be seen as not a criminal situation, but an international that should be in the jurisdiction of ambassadors, military, CIA, etc. Nations have the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and if they can't do so, and it spills over into another country, that country should either threaten to, or actually take action to deal with the problem (i.e. military action). Violent crime which spills over is an invasion, plain and simple. I'm not saying we should invade Mexico, not yet, but we should treat these as international incident. We should start by sending an ambassador to Mexico, plan some diplomacy, maybe engage in some saber rattling, and if this continue, mobilize our troops. And mo, I'm not doing an anti-illegal immigration rant. This is not the problem, its the criminal elements who slip back and forth across the borders to elude the authorities on both sides. And when cartel members, or even some of these criminals are caught, maybe they should be tried by a military tribunal (or at least use that threat to gain leverage in such a case).

Gmfbear1
Gmfbear1

I am the grandson of an illegal immigrant that was fleeing the communists in Russia in 1918. My parents are first generation, have college degrees, had 4 kids, all with college degrees, have 12 cousins, one with a PhD in English, 6 School Teachers, 1 Surgeon, a Masters Degree Social Worker, 2 MBA's, and one Rhodes Scholar with a PhD in Arabic working in anti-terrorism. The point I am trying to make is people come to this country from Latin America to better their families. So lets make the process easier, lets make them legal, let them buy houses here and sign up for Social Security. I think adding 12 million new faces to Social Security may fix its finances, don't you think?!?

Rob
Rob

Well, don't try to cross the border illegally, and this won't happen to you.

Mateonelson
Mateonelson

I hope the illegals were deported and the kidnappers put in prison, and the house put up for public auction.

karin
karin

Wow, so many of you are pathetic... Does it really matter if these victims were illegal? You all are saying, that a piece of paper is going to determine whether or not our law enforcement should help them or not.. First of all, it's on US Territory... Second, someone asked who is going to pay the SWAT team salary for rescuing these people? Well you are, how about that!

JayRob303
JayRob303

I have no sympathy for these criminals...regardless of their reasoning to break out laws...call it karma...

Rtphx2008
Rtphx2008

I do feel for these people but the kidnappers if convited want do but 50 percent of there time compared to the 85 percent of american citizens. But what really gets me is that people that are doing the best they can. That where born here and paid taxes for years and years now not able to get the help the need. Yet if you are illegal you get housing food stamps free medical and with their false IDS vote. How is this fair to americans who are loosing everything even while they are working at just 10 dollars over AHCCS limit... ??????????????? illegals get legal or leave

Str8jakt213
Str8jakt213

Wow, what a racist bunch of knuckle dragging pigs posting these comments. Separate the problems you cruel assholes. Yeah there' an immigration problem (hell your grandparents got in for free) but the monsters torturing these people need to be dealt with utilizing the harshness and disconnected emotion that you are instead inflicting on people who simply wanted to find a way to live a better lives for their families.

Those people need a system of some kind, and requirements to be met in order to become citizens. And yes they need to pay taxes from a much earlier starting point. but don't gloss over their plight with such disdain and cruelty. It just shows how ugly you are and how easily you should be mistreated and forgotten.

Phillip Mckann
Phillip Mckann

This is absolutely horrible and something must be done. I suggest we get the wall build immediately and put an end to this tragedy.

Ratso
Ratso

Where's the evidence that it's America's kidnapping capital? I've heard this thrown out a couple times--that Phoenix has the second-highest rate in the world--but I have yet to see a source.

American Citizen
American Citizen

I find it hard to sympathize. They know form all the stories that this stuff happens.

Ford312v
Ford312v

This should be translated to Spanish and published in every Mexican publication possible.

juan
juan

cry me a rio grande

Wnye
Wnye

Well from what I can see, they want a better lives for themselves. Nothing wrong with that. Plain and simple. It is everyone's right to have a better life. More then likely they saved that hard earned money so they could pay to have a better life. We are all intitled to that. It isn't anyone'e right to treat people that way no matter what. And the sad thing is many do not report it because they feel they will get into more problems for sneaking in illegally anyway. Again I will say, it isn't anything, any different from what each and everyone of us would to do pay for the price of freedom and a good life for their families. At the end of the day we all wish for better lives and for freedom. It's too bad that what we feel would be a better life is nothing like what they wish for.

John
John

Is the duct tape in the picture over his nose so that he won't recognize their smell later in court?

Jerkyskin
Jerkyskin

dude, you're retarded. do you live in a cave?

moroso
moroso

Same as you traveling from southern california to boston,massashusetts police won't stop you unless you breack the rules of the road.

Pyra
Pyra

How come I never her people like you complain about the illegal Chinese and Eastern Europeans? Look it up, their numbers are vast.

MaxOnePercent
MaxOnePercent

I don't think that adding 12 million less-than-minimum-wage workers will do anything besides completely bankrupt the fragile social safety net that barely exists in this country. Furthermore, even if their meager social security payments were able to buoy the system it won't be anything more than a temporary fix. Don't you realize that these people are already eligible for social security as it is? In the long run they will end up taking more from the system then they put it, just like the current generation of social security recipients has.

Mary
Mary

No gmfbear1, because you have zero credibility on the subject, because you're inferring that civil rights are only a gimmick, to be exploited for agenda, but something that actual citizens, the only ones who have civil rights in the US, can be deprived of. You support the imposition of a status quo like that of the one your grandparents sought to escape.

We have untold millions of US citizens who have been displaced from their jobs, they and their children are the ones suffering. They are homeless, they can't get jobs, because they are being discriminated against because they are US citizens. Let's deal with some truths here. Mexico isn't destitute, these people aren't deprived of jobs, they aren't homeless or hungry, in most cases they are overweight. There is no human right to violating the law because you want to earn a higher wage standard than that which exists in your home country. While wages there are lower than in the US, the cost of living is dramatically cheaper than in the US. What's more, these people have every ability to work hard for change in their respective countries. They aren't seeking a "better life" they are seeking welfare and other subsidies. And this harms US citizens, it makes taxes rise to the point that businesses move overseas, and Mexico, which keeps it's tax rates low by encouraging it's poor to come here, hope it also provides them a competitive advantage that will lure those businesses to relocate there.

The Phoenix New Times likes to infer it has an altruistic agenda, yet it's in bed with the historic enemies of the minimum wage, work place protections, food, drug and product safety provisions and environmental laws, the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, who all demand open borders to destroy all the gains made in the previous century that improved the lives of the poor and created a middle class. The Phoenix New Times shares the same plantation slavery mindset as those two organizations.

Ozzylvr
Ozzylvr

Figures an immigrant would say that!!!!!

Ozzylvr
Ozzylvr

YES IT DOES MATTER IF THEIR ILLEGAL OR NOT, IF THEY DIDNT TRY TO CROSS ILLEGALLY THIS WOULD'NT HAVE HAPPENED TO THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, YOU IDIOT!!!!!

Justintime
Justintime

What's pathetic is that you don't seem to grasp the overall picture, only pick out 1 thing and over-exaggerate it without thinking about what got them there in the first place or the consequences of letting people flood into the country unchecked.

They are in real trouble sure help them out, but they should have to pay for it(fat chance) and should be deported back to where they came from ILLEGALLY in the first place. I bet you would have a different view if they came over with 200lbs of heroin strapped to their backs and got into that situation. Illegal is illegal.

Lizlemonrox
Lizlemonrox

@ Karin Yes, it does matter that they were illegal. They should be helped if they are in a situation like the one above... but sent back to their country. If people didn't try to come into the United States ILLEGALLY, they wouldn't run into situations where they are taken advantage of and abused. I wonder how may of the kidnappers were here ILLEGALLY?

Alacran
Alacran

Learn how to spell. It's spelled "losing", not "loosing".

MaxOnePercent
MaxOnePercent

There is nothing racist about criticizing IDIOTS that hand thousands of dollars to NOTORIOUS CRIMINALS to assist them in BREAKING THE LAW under the ridiculous assumption that they are going to be treated fairly by the blood-thirsty scumbags when they get to the US. There is no honor among thieves as they say. These people were incredibly stupid to think it was safe to do business with coyotes in the first place.

Furthermore, if these people are so poor and so desperate how is it that they manage to come up with thousands of dollars to pay coyotes to be smuggled into America? I couldn't come up with $1800 to save my life yet we are supposed to buy the BS lie that says these people are all "poor" and desperate to come to the US for work. Yeah right, the only thing they are desperate for is to come here and get on the welfare dole. That is the true driving force behind illegal immigration.

Lastly, it is extremely flawed to compare modern immigrants to the people that came to the United States in centuries past. When my ancestors came over in the 19th century there was no welfare, no public health insurance, no minimum wage, there wasn't even free public education! Our ancestors came here to work or to starve (and many of them did starve btw), unlike modern immigrants who come here to get obese as permanent recipients of public assistance for generations to come.

Ozzylvr
Ozzylvr

They were doing something illegal thats why their in the situation their in, i dont feel sorry for them. And you go to mexico and help them out the best way you can, AND STAY THERE YOU WONT BE MISSED!!!!

Lizlemonrox
Lizlemonrox

Wow. You want to talk about ignorant? My grandparents came to this country LEGALLY. The problem is that people crossing the border are doing it ILLEGALLY.

It's obvious that you failed basic Civics 101... there is a system for them to come to the country and become citizens. It's been in place for years and years. They just don't want to take the time or be troubled by doing it LEGALLY.

Kurt Tappe
Kurt Tappe

If you "find it hard to sympathize" then you're a sociopath just like the kidnappers.

Disgusted
Disgusted

It's comments like these that make you and others like you almost as sick and demented as the kidnappers who torture and kill the immigrants. The lack of humanity is astounding.

MaxOnePercent
MaxOnePercent

Excellent points. I especially agree with your assessment of the New Times, which is little more than a puppet publication for greedy corporate interests masquerading as "progressive". Bravo!

ISAACARAGON
ISAACARAGON

Yea because most spoiled americans don't think that way. They dont know what it is to be american. WE ARE ALL BLESSED TO BE HERE! NO MORE HATE!!

MaxOnePercent
MaxOnePercent

People like you are so pathetic, you are too lazy (or dumb) to make an actually counter-argument so you resort to nitpicking about typos. Get a life.

Ozzylvr
Ozzylvr

IF YOU DONT LIKE IT GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY!!!!

Phillip McKann
Phillip McKann

To the contrary, I feel horrible about this. But there is a solution: They can stay in their own country. If things are so bad in Mexico, they should be working to make it better.

Why do Mexicans immigrate to the United States for work and at the same time Guatemalans immigrate to Mexico for the same reason? Mexican people should be doing Mexican jobs.

The United States has exported millions of jobs over the past two decades, why didn't President Fox do anything to get some of that work for his people? All he had to do was have English taught in schools, and the call center jobs would have gone to Mexico instead of India. It would have been a win/win situation for both countries. So blame Mexico's corrupt government, not the United States.

End illegal immigration. Legal immigration can continue. Otherwise, where does it end? The whole world wants to live here.

roll eyes
roll eyes

"It's comments like these that make you and others like you almost as sick and demented as the kidnappers who torture and kill the immigrants. The lack of humanity is astounding."

What a load of mindless stupidity. Saying "Yawn" as a reply makes a person "almost as sick and demented as the kidnappers who torture and kill the immigrants" and shows an "astounding" "lack of humanity"?? Your exaggerated whiny idiotic hyperbole is laughable and is a great example of your side of the argument.

 
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