MERCEDES, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Several Mercedes Independent School District employees, including the superintendent, were arrested between the months of May and June.
Criminal complaints obtained by ValleyCentral provided additional details on the series of incidents.
- Sept. 22, 2021: Maria Luisa Espino, a teacher at Mercedes High School, allegedly injured a disabled student.
- May 9: Frank Omar Fuentes, a teacher at Mercedes High School, was arrested on charges of improper relationship between an educator and student.
- May 19: Fuentes was arrested again on charges of indecency with a child, sexual contact.
- May 20: Fuentes was arrested a third time on charges of violating a protective order.
- May 24: Mercedes Police Department was advised of the incident allegedly involving Espino and the disabled child.
- May 26: A bomb threat is made at Mercedes High School, two days after the deadly shooting in Uvalde.
- June 1: Espino was arrested on charges of injury to a disabled child.
- June 1: Edgar Aaron Estrada Jr., a security guard at Mercedes High School, was arrested in connection to the bomb threat that was made on May 26.
- June 3: Carolyn Mendiola, the Mercedes ISD Superintendent, was arrested on charges of interference with public duties.
- June 9: Mendiola is placed on paid administrative leave.
- Aug. 16: Espino is fired from Mercedes ISD.
- Sources: Criminal complaints and ValleyCentral archives
School administrator notices ‘suspicious activities’
On May 9, officers were called to Mercedes High School to investigate allegations of an improper relationship between an educator and student. According to a criminal complaint, a school administrator reported seeing “suspicious activities” in one of the rooms. She told officers that she saw a student entering the room several times a week.
She told police that on May 5, she opened the door to the room and saw Frank Omar Fuentes and the student alone in the room standing. She then left the door open, since it had been closed and had black paper covering the window.
She told police that she reported the incident to other administrators. That same day, after bus duty, they went to the video room and noticed that the room was open as the custodian cleaned it, but was closed “right away,” after the custodian left. She told police that after some time, the student was seen leaving the building with Fuentes behind her.
She stated they checked video footage from previous days, and the pattern was the same each time, the complaint reads.
According to the criminal complaint, administrators told the officer they saw Fuentes and the student in a full embrace, with one of the administrators stating he saw Fuentes leaning in and kissing the student.
Later that day, the student was interviewed by investigators. They say she told them Fuentes had spoken with her about renting an apartment for her so she wouldn’t have to stay with her aunt.
The student said she met Fuentes in a class in January and began communicating with him on social media, which progressed to calls and texts daily. She said they both communicated their feelings for each other, and would meet almost daily in his class to kiss, according to the criminal complaint.
Complaint alleges superintendent ‘out of control’
While the improper relationship investigation at the high school was underway, an investigator noted that Carolyn Mendiola, the Mercedes ISD superintendent was yelling at another investigator that they should not be there.
According to that complaint, Mendiola was “out of control, impeding the investigators to conduct a proper investigation.”
One of the investigators noted that Mendiola said she was not going to allow for them to take the victim and suspect’s phones, which were later retrieved.
The administrators who called police had agreed to provide statements at the police department, but later sent an email stating that Mendiola told them not to provide a statement “until she said so,” the complaint details.
“[Mendiola] on previous incidents involving staff and children, failed to allow the administrators to contact police and file proper report. On both cases, arrests were made months after the incidents happened due to interference from [Mendiola,]” the complaint stated.
Investigators search phones, find sexual content
On May 10, investigators received consent to access the victim’s phone from the family member who purchased it. Investigators then discovered several messages between Fuentes and the student describing a romantic relationship and sexual content, according to the complaint.
The complaint states that Fuentes commented on one photo of the student in her underwear, making references to wanting to perform a sexual act on the child.
Several other messages depicting an ongoing relationship were also noted, authorities alleged.
Fuentes was then arrested on May 9 and charged with improper relationship between an educator and student. He was arrested two more times in the month of May. He was arrested again on June 20 after investigators learned that he had reached out to the victim in an online application, police said.
A mother complains after special education student left “red, swollen and bleeding”
On May 24, a school official told police about the September 2021 incident involving Maria Luisa Espino. After further investigation, it was discovered that a nonverbal, special education education student was eating his lunch meal. According to the complaint, Espino is accused of approaching the student and taking food out of the student’s mouth by grabbing his cheeks and putting her fingers inside his mouth.
This allegedly caused three fingernail cuts to his left cheek, authorities noted.
On May 27, officers made contact with the victim’s mother, who told police she was upset about how the investigation was conducted by school officials.
The following day, investigators interviewed another witness who said she saw the incident occur, and that the boy had cuts that were “red, swollen and bleeding.”
Espino was arrested on June 1 on allegations of injury to a disabled child.
A “robotic voice” delivers bomb threat
On May 26, Mercedes police responded to a bomb threat at Mercedes High School.
Police told ValleyCentral that the threat was made through a radio frequency that administrators and security use for their radios. Faculty heard a “robotic voice” deliver a bomb threat over the radio. Students and staff were evacuated to the football stadium.
On June 1, Edgar Aaron Estrada Jr., a security guard at Mercedes ISD, was arrested on charges of terroristic threat and false alarm in connection to the incident.
At the time of his arrest, Mercedes PD told ValleyCentral that Estrada had access to a radio and broadcasted the threats.
In a statement, the district said Estrada was not an employee of the Mercedes Independent School District but was instead contracted through MLG Security Services.