Man wanted for murder of woman in El Salvador arrested in death of hiker in Maryland

A fugitive wanted in El Salvador for the murder of a young woman was arrested last year for the murder of a Maryland hiker, authorities said Saturday.

The suspect, Victor Antonio Martinez-Hernandez, 23, was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, around 11:30 p.m. Friday, Sheriff Jeff Gahler of Harford County, Maryland, said at a news conference.

Rachel Morin's body was discovered on Ma and Pa Trail in Bel Air, Maryland, on August 6, 2023, the day after her boyfriend reported her missing, authorities said. The sheriff previously indicated that she may have been murdered an hour or two before sunset on August 5.

In a statement Saturday, the sheriff's office said investigators believe Martinez-Hernandez “was hiding next to a trail and where Rachel was walking and attacked and killed Morin before fleeing Maryland.”

Authorities have not said whether a weapon was involved or how exactly Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five, was killed. On Saturday, Gahler said the suspect faces first-degree murder as well as first-degree rape. charges in Maryland in connection with Morin's attack.

Gahler alleged the suspect arrived in the United States in February 2023 without authorization while fleeing Salvadoran authorities who were searching for him following the death of a young woman. The sheriff did not name the gang he claimed was the suspect.

The sheriff used Saturday's press conference to criticize federal leadership on border security.

“American citizens are not safe because of failed immigration policies,” Gahler said.

He said Morin was the second woman in the county believed to have been killed in recent years by someone with ties to an El Salvador gang and who was in the country illegally.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to “shut down” the border if elected, and he has accused President Joe Biden of creating an “open border” with Mexico through which criminals from around the world pass .

Although spending at the border has increased steadily since the 1990s, Biden responded to concerns about migration by taking executive action this month to “suspend entry” of immigrants who cross the border illegally.

Oklahoma jail records indicate the suspect was being held without bail in Tulsa County based on a “fugitive from justice” hold and Maryland and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detentions the United States.

It was unclear whether Martinez-Hernandez had retained an attorney. The Tulsa Public Defender's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment; the Bel Air public defender acknowledged the request but did not comment.

Gahler said he fears other crimes could be linked to the Harford County case.

“Investigators are concerned that we may stumble upon another crime,” Gahler said.

A March 2023 home invasion in South Los Angeles in which a 9-year-old girl was assaulted helped lead to an arrest in the Maryland case, the sheriff said.

Doorbell video from the home shows a shirtless suspect exiting the residence. More importantly, Gahler said, DNA evidence from this crime scene matches genetic material found during the investigation of Morin's murder.

William J. DelBagno, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore office, said familial DNA – the genetic material that leads to a small group of relatives – led to the suspect. Agents traveled to El Salvador as part of the investigation, he said.

Details about the killing in El Salvador, described as taking place in January 2023, were not available. “We suspected that Rachel was not the first victim,” Gahler said.

The sheriff said investigators first focused on Martinez-Hernandez around May 20, Morin's birthday.

There are different versions of the story of the suspect's arrest.

A statement from the sheriff's office said the FBI contacted Tulsa Police Department detectives “late last night” about the case. “They were working on information that the suspect was in the Tulsa area,” the release said.

He said authorities “converged on a bar” and “found the suspect casually sitting at the bar and placed him under arrest.”

Gahler said during the news conference that Tulsa police arrested the suspect Friday night and did not know he was wanted.

Officers at a Tulsa business park arrested him for trespassing and discovered Martinez-Hernandez was wanted after looking at his information, the sheriff said.

“He was hanging out in a business park or a storefront,” he said, “and he was identified when he was arrested and processed.”

The Tulsa Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities at the news conference were confident that Martinez-Hernandez would be extradited and tried in Maryland before authorities in El Salvador or California could consider prosecuting him. No charges have been announced in the California case.

Morin's mother, Patricia “Patty” Morin, spoke at Saturday's news conference, thanking investigators for solving a difficult case and thanking the media “for keeping the story alive.”

“At one point, when things were looking really dark and hopeless,” she said, “the lead detective said to me: Patience will win out in the end.”

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