Teenage girl brutally murdered and left to die was 'targeted'
World / 18 May 2019, 4:11pm / Lynh Bui, Peter Hermann
Maryland - Ariana Funes-Diaz was killed in a tunnel, naked, beaten with a baseball bat and slashed with a machete, according to police.
She had been lured there on April 18, police said, by MS-13 gang members who worried she was about to hand them over to law enforcement.
It was less than a day earlier that the 14-year-old herself had been the one to draw a man to Northeast Washington, where he was beaten, robbed and interrogated about his gang affiliations, according to court documents and three individuals familiar with the investigation. But the man was a family friend, court documents said, and at one point, the girl begged for mercy for him.
Worried that Funes-Diaz would go to law enforcement, police said, the gang members brutally attacked her in an assault recorded on camera and left her.
"She was targeted to be murdered," Prince George's County Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia Bridgford said Friday in a bail review hearing for two of the suspects charged in the teen's killing.
It took a month before the body of Funes-Diaz was found in a creek in Maryland near the tunnel in the woods. Three teens - including another 14-year-old girl - have been charged as adults with first-degree murder in her killing, Prince George's County police announced this week.
A judge on Friday ordered Joel Escobar, 17, of Northeast Washington, and Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi, 14, of Lothian, to remain jailed without bond pending trial in Funes-Diaz's killing. A third suspect, Josue Fuentes-Ponce, 16, of Bladensburg, is expected to appear in court Monday. Authorities are still working to identify a fourth person, suspected of filming the attack on Funes-Diaz, according to police and court documents.
Funes-Diaz had run away from the youth group home where she had been living in Anne Arundel County, according to two individuals familiar with the investigation. Anne Arundel County police said she was reported missing April 11.
Events cascaded rapidly for Funes-Diaz, according to court documents.
By April 17, she was part of a group that wound up inside a dark, vacant home on Benning Road in Northeast Washington as part of a kidnapping and robbery, according to court documents and three individuals familiar with the matter.
The 14-year-old had asked a man who knew her mother to give her a ride to the Benning Road Metro station, and once there, a crowd of about 15 people eventually swarmed the man's car and marched him to the nearby abandoned house, court documents show. At the house, according to his account in the court files, he was robbed of $500 and a bank card and interrogated about whether he belonged to a gang.
In a dark room where there were playing cards scattered on the floor, according to the man's account in the court document, he was kicked and beaten with the handle of a machete and told to strip off his shirt to prove he had no gang tattoos.
He eventually was freed and fled. But not before the young girl - who the law enforcement officials said was Funes-Diaz - had begged for the attack to stop.
Within a day, according to court filings on Funes-Diaz's killing, Escobar, Hernandez-Nucamendi and Fuentes-Ponce allegedly drove her to an apartment complex in Riverdale.
They walked her to a tunnel under an overpass by a creek, according to charging documents. There, Escobar attacked her with a wooden bat and Fuentes-Ponce with a machete, while another person captured the killing on a camera phone, charging documents say.
Hernandez-Nucamendi told police, according to charging documents, that she stood outside the tunnel during the attack, but heard "several distinct sounds, which she believed was [Funes-Diaz] "being struck with the machete." Escobar and Fuentes-Ponce came out of the tunnel with blood on their faces and clothes, charging documents said.
Fuentes-Ponce washed the bloody machete in the creek before they all walked out of the woods and drove off, according to charging documents.
The machete was later found still covered in blood in a park in the District of Columbia, charging documents said.
During her bail review hearing, Hernandez-Nucamendi's public defender said she was improperly interrogated by police. A prosecutor said at the hearing that Hernandez-Nucamendi was romantically involved with an MS-13 gang member.
Escobar's public defender said the case hangs on a questionable confession to law enforcement. An attorney for Fuentes-Ponce could not be reached.