Joshua Lott / Reuters file
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu
Five charred bodies discovered in a smoldering SUV in the Arizona desert apparently are a missing family in a murder-suicide case rather than victims of drug smugglers as first suggested by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
Tempe Police Sgt. Jeff Glover said the vehicle found in Vekol Valley about 30 miles south of Phoenix belonged to the Butwin family. Based on evidence found at the family home, he said in a prepared statement, “detectives pursued this incident as a murder-suicide investigation.”
“We do not believe there are any outstanding suspects involved in this case,” he said, acknowledging the bodies had not been identified.
The Arizona Republic reported James C. "Jim" Butwin, 47, a Phoenix-area businessman and father was going through a divorce and faced financial and medical problems. Butwin sent a letter with a key to the family house to his business partner, The Republic reported.
Butwin had a wife and three children, ranging in age from 7 to 16, the Republic said.
Four bodies were found in the cargo area and one in the back seat of a Ford Expedition about four hours after its driver fled at 4:30 a.m. Saturday when a Border Patrol agent approached the SUV on the side of Interstate 8.
Pinal County Sheriff's office
This photo provided Saturday by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office shows the charred vehicle where five burned bodies were found inside in the Vekol Valley area, west of Casa Grande, Ariz.
The Pinal sheriff said Saturday that evidence pointed to drug smuggling, but he did not specify what the evidence was.
"This is pretty significant," he told reporters. "Given all these indicators, you don't have to be a homicide detective to add up all this information."
On Wednesday, Babeu told The Associated Press, "When you're not being transparent and giving information, then everyone stands on their high horse," he said, adding that he released information as he was learning it. "There were no conclusions given ... There was no pronouncement."
He said in an earlier statement he was relying on investigators, including Border Patrol agents, who theorized the bodies burned were hostages taken by a Mexican drug cartel and that the SUV’s driver had fled on foot after setting it ablaze.
On his Facebook page, Babeu had written:
“Thanks to all our Homicide detectives who are investigating this alarming 5 person murder and the torching of the vehicle (likely in an effort to destroy evidence). All information is pointing that this is connected to the violent drug car...tel smuggling in this high smuggling area.
We have been working closely with ICE, US Border Patrol and other local law enforcement to fight back against the drug cartel smuggling. The border is NOT more secure than ever Ms. Napolitano!”
The Department of Homeland Security, run by Secretary Janet Napolitano, Arizona’s former governor, did not address Babeu’s comment directly. But the department said in a statement to msnbc.com on Wednesday that illegal immigration attempts, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, have decreased 53 percent in the past three years, and are less than 20 percent of what they were at their peak, while seizures of illegal drugs, currency and weapons are all up.
The Border Patrol has close to 6,000 uniformed personnel in the Arizona. Homeland Security in 2010 and has provided more than $26 million to law enforcement agencies in Arizona.
"This administration will continue our unprecedented efforts to secure our border, crack down on transnational criminals, drug-related violence, smugglers and traffickers to ensure the safety and security of our citizens," the department said.
Five bodies that were recently found in a burning SUV may be those of a missing Arizona family. KPNX's William Pitts reports.
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