BALTIMORE (FOX 5 DC) - Two teens charged with the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Prince George’s County were in the country illegally, previously locked up and should not have been walking free according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE says it had a deportation detainer for Salvadoran nationals Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce, 16, and Joel Ernesto Escobar, 17 and had notified the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections after the teens were arrested in Prince George’s County last year accused of attempted murder and gang-related charges. ICE says it was never notified when the pair was released.
“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,” said ICE Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte in a statement.
The teens, along with 14-year-old Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi, are now accused of murdering 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz whose body was found in a creek in Riverdale last week. Police say the suspects are part of the gang MS-13.
While ICE is blaming Prince George’s County Department of Corrections for releasing the teens, PGCDC says after Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar were arrested on May 11, 2018 a few days later: “a court order resulted in both individuals being transferred to the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, which is a state facility. 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.”
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services said he was limited with what he could release about the two teens and hoped to obtain more information.
He said it‘s very rare that Maryland state juvenile facilities are notified of ICE detainers.
It’s unknown why the teens were released despite such serious charges, why ICE was not notified and who should have notified ICE.
ICE says Fuentes-Ponce arrived in the United States on December 23, 2015, with a family unit in Texas. On March 16, 2017, an immigration judge ordered Fuentes to be removed in absentia.
On Aug. 23, 2016, ICE says Escobar was found to be an “unlawfully present accompanied juvenile” near McAllen, Texas. He was transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement then later released to a family member in the D.C. area, according to ICE.
Editorial Note: A previous version of this story stated Prince George's County Police Department ignored a deportation hold, according to ICE. This has been updated to correctly state that ICE said the Prince George's County Department of Corrections ignored the deportation hold.