According to the embattled sheriff, the burned bodies probably were the work of a "violent drug cartel." Babeu added, "The border is NOT more secure than ever, Ms. Napolitano!"
Tempe police have just informed us that the vehicle is registered to the address of a missing family from their city. Tempe police are calling it a "family murder/suicide."
Remember, it was the Vekol Valley where then-Pinal County Deputy Louie Puroll claimed he had been shot by drug smugglers, which Babeu took to heart since it backed what he had been saying with no proof for years -- that his county would be the scene of a violent confrontation with Mexican drug smugglers. Babeu later fired the guy after he claimed an acquaintance had threatened to kill New Times writer Paul Rubin, who had written an article questioning the accuracy of Puroll's claims.
Read exactly what Tempe police said below:
On June 4, 2012, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Tempe Police were called to a residence in the 9300 block of S. Kenneth Place, Tempe, AZ 85284.
A family acquaintance advised that the Butwin family members who lived at that residence were missing. During their investigation, Tempe Investigators discovered suspicious and concerning evidence inside the home. The family vehicle was missing. Based on the evidence, detectives pursued this incident as a Murder-Suicide investigation.
Soon after the investigation began yesterday afternoon, Tempe PD alerted Pinal County about the missing vehicle and family.
Late this morning Tempe Police were advised by Pinal County Sheriff's Office that a vehicle found in the Vekol Valley in Pinal County with the remains of five victims was, in fact, the missing vehicle registered to the residence on Kenneth Place.
At this time, the subjects located inside the vehicle have not been identified. This continues to be an ongoing investigation. We do not believe there are any outstanding suspects involved in this case.
We just received this e-mail minutes ago, and Tempe police didn't immediately return a voicemail from New Times.
According to what the Pinal County Sheriff's Office says today, the Ford SUV was spotted by a Border Patrol agent earlier that morning. The agent went after the SUV but couldn't catch up.
About four hours later, the vehicle was found torched, with five charred bodies inside.
Four of the people were in the rear compartment of the vehicle, while one person was in the second-row seat.
"The area had several shoe prints and also 'sleepy feet' (shoes made of carpet remnants or burlap by smugglers to hide their footprints)," the Sheriff's Office said.
The Sheriff's Office said a call came in from an "individual who asked to remain anonymous," and here's how they say that went down:
The individual reported that he feared his brother-in-law was among the dead. The brother-in-law had told him the night before that he was "going to Vekol Valley to make money." The brother-in-law had left to Vekol Valley with four other acquaintances. Homicide detectives asked the reporting party if his brother-in-law was involved in drug or human smuggling and he said he didn't get involved in his business but he "knows its illegal." The reporting party said that when he tries to call his brother-in-law or his friends on their cell phones they go straight to voicemail.
On Sunday, a homicide detective again spoke with the reporting party who told us he still has been not able to get in touch with his brother-in-law or his acquaintances. The five men were last seen driving in a Ford SUV. Homicide detectives are also not able to locate the brother-in-law either. PCSO knows the names of the family members involved including those who are missing, but we've been asked to withhold as the family fears possible retaliation from the drug cartel.
The bodies still haven't been identified.
The press release from PCSO also quotes an anonymous Border Patrol source -- who was apparently quoted in other news outlets -- saying, "My guess, he's an illegal, maybe a Zetas cartel member and he was doing a hit for the Zetas."
"It was also theorized by Federal law enforcement officials in this same article that these individuals were hostages killed by a Mexican drug cartel," the press release continues. "The Pinal County Sheriff's Office is not able to confirm this information as our investigation is still ongoing."
Babeu sounded as if he liked that idea, though.
"It's very alarming to me as the sheriff here that there could be this level of deliberate violence," Babeu told the Associated Press on Monday. "This normally does not happen in the United States, and this happened 70 miles north of the border and 30 miles south of America's sixth-largest city. If this is in fact connected to the cartels, and we absolutely prove it, this should be a warning to our country."
PCSO says any questions about this missing family from Tempe "will need to be directed to the Tempe Police Department."
"We will continue to work with the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office and the Tempe Police Department with this investigation," the release says.
Check back for updates; Tempe police are having a press conference this afternoon.