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ICE says detainers for suspects in 14-year-old girl's murder were ignored

(Left to Right) Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar, Courtesy of Prince George's County Police
Posted at 10:59 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 08:33:51-04

BALTIMORE — Two of three teens arrested last Thursday for the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Prince George's County were released from custody last year despite the existence of a detainer filed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Josue Fuentes-Ponce, 16, and Joel Escobar, 17, have been charged with the April 18 death of Ariana Funes-Diaz, whose body was discovered by police a month later in a creek in the 6300 block of 64th Avenue in Riverdale.

According to ICE, Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar are Salvadorian nationals and in the country illegally.

Both are reportedly gang members and were previously arrested on May 11, 2018 by Prince George's County Police on attempted first and second-degree murder charges.

At the time, ICE officials say they lodged a detainer with the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, but it was not honored as both teens were released at some point without any notification. Baltimore Field Office Director, Diane Witte says had the detainer been honored, a life may have been saved.

"These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before," Witte said, "and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life."

ICE says Fuentes-Ponce arrived in the United States on December 23, 2015 as part of a family unit in Texas. They were released into the country pending the outcome of an immigration case. On March 16, 2017, Fuentes-Ponce failed to show up for a court hearing , at which time an immigration judge ordered his removal from the country.

Escobar came to the U.S. on August 23, 2016 as an unaccompanied minor and was later released to a family member in Washington D.C. where he presently resides.

The Prince George's County Department of Corrections released a statement in response to ICE's allegations, saying it was a state facility, not they who released the teens:

"On May 11, 2018, the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections took custody of Joel Ernesto Escobar and Josue Fuentes-Ponce on attempted murder and attempted robbery charges. Four days later on May 15, 2018, 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. The Department of Corrections follows policy to inform the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency whenever individuals with detainers are released from its custody. Because the aforementioned individuals were no longer in the Department of Corrections custody, no notification was provided to ICE."

Officials with ICE say another detainer has been placed on Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar, pending the outcome of their current murder case.