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Arrests in Tijuana Deaths Confirmed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tijuana officials confirmed Tuesday that three people are in custody in connection with the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths last week of 12 people in a house during a religious ceremony.

But Mexican officials said they have not asked the FBI for help in finding two people described as Americans who allegedly were at the ritual, denying a report carried by the Mexican news agency Excelsior.

The three people in custody are being held on charges of abandonment because they allegedly failed to call authorities when they discovered 18 people lying unconscious in the house. Six survived.

The three--Ana Fabiola Miranda Juarez, 19; Gerardo Barrios Rodriguez, 20, and Estela Jimenez Ceballos, 46--were all arrested Thursday, the day the bodies were found.

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Last week, authorities said they were questioning Miranda, but Tuesday was the first time they disclosed that all three are in custody and under investigation.

It will now be up to the Tijuana district attorney’s office to determine whether any of the three have any responsibility in the deaths, said Jaime Sam Fierro, commander of the Baja California Judicial Police in Tijuana.

Miranda had gone to the house about 7 a.m. Thursday to look for her mother, Gloria Miranda Juarez, who owned the house in the Colonia Mariano Matamoros on the southeastern outskirts of the city.

According to authorities, the younger Miranda found the people in the house unconscious, with the exception of an 8-month-old girl, Ana Karen Osuna, who was crying.

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Rather than calling police or emergency medical assistance, she allegedly went to see Barrios Rodriguez, a friend who lives in the Matamoros neighborhood, and told him what happened.

The two then drove to another nearby neighborhood, Colonia Castillo, to look for Jimenez Ceballos, whom police described as a “medium.” Miranda and Barrios Rodriguez sought out Jimenez to see if she could provide religious help for the people at the house.

“They told the woman what had happened instead of letting the authorities know,” Fierro said. “Those persons, having known what had happened, never called the Red Cross or the police.” Police did not elaborate on what the pair did after seeking out Jimenez.

In Mexico, the Red Cross responds to medical emergencies just as paramedics do in the United States.

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“By knowing what had taken place and not having told anyone, they became involved in the matter,” Fierro said.

As it turned out, Gloria Miranda Juarez and 11 others in the house died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty lamp powered by butane gas, chemical experts with the judicial police said Monday.

Gloria Miranda Juarez had lived in the house with Federico Padres Mexia, the leader of the religious group that relied in part on mediums to conduct elaborate prayer rituals, which included burning sulfur and, in at least some instances, rubbing their bodies with perfume.

Mexia, along with two others--Juan Jose Sarabia Estrada and Consuelo Ponce--remain comatose in Tijuana hospitals.

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As for the report that Mexican authorities had asked for the FBI’s help, Fierro denied that such a request was ever made, or that Americans were at the ill-fated ceremony.

“That is not true. There was no one from the United States there,” Fierro said. “Everyone there was Mexican.”

He said the only organization ever contacted for help was the San Diego Police Department, in order to get help in performing tests on the victims’ blood and tissue. Those tests were eventually done by the San Diego County medical examiner.

But some relatives of the dead told reporters that two Americans were at the ritual and were seen leaving the house sometime during the night. But the relatives said that they did not have a description of the couple and that they had received their information from people in the neighborhood.

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