Jim Sharon Bearden Jr. had a gun pointed at his head in the bedroom of his house. He also was threatened with a baseball bat and death to his family. But during an ordeal that lasted almost three hours, he kept his wits enough to send himself a text message.
The text, sent from the cell phone of a man involved with his kidnapping, led authorities to arrest three young men, two teenagers, from Honduras. They have been charged with burglary in connection with breaking into Bearden’s Bridge City house.
“I didn’t think I would see my wife and kids again,” he said about his time during the abduction.
KOGT’s Gary Stelly interviewed Bearden, a lawyer with a practice with his father in Orange, about his kidnapping. It happend on the morning of Monday May 8. Bearden’s recollections, along with an affidavit of probable cause by Orange County Sheriff’s Detective Sergeant David Lampman, provide the narrative for this story.
Bearden eventually was taken from his house in his SUV and driven to a bank in Port Arthur to withdraw cash. The kidnappers gave him a cell phone to keep on the Face Time setting so they could watch what he was doing.
It was when he had the cell phone, which belonged to one of the men charged, that he went through the texts. He found a receipt from a phone payment and then texted the account information to his own phone. Law officers used the account to track the men.
The ordeal began as Bearden was sleeping late. His wife, a teacher, and his children had gone to school. His Great Dane, Bandit, was asleep with him in an upstairs bedroom.
About 8:15 that morning, Bearden and the dog were awakened by intruders. One larger man had a baseball bat. The other, a smaller man, was holding a pistol. Both were wearing ski masks. The smaller man had a pink Nike backpack. A camo-colored walkie-talkie was attached to one of the black straps of the backpack.
Bandit didn’t hear the men come into the house, and neither did Bearden. The startled dog began taking a protective stance. His bark was loud. The men began yelling.
“It was chaotic. It was loud,” Bearden said. The men demanded he quiet the dog. “I was concerned (Bandit) was going to get me shot or him shot.” Luckily, he got the dog to calm down.
The man with the baseball bat ordered Bearden to lie on the floor on his stomach. They tied his hand together and his feet together, using a cut lamp cord, a phone charging cord and a cut computer cord. The cords were so tight the kidnappers were later concerned people at the bank would notice the marks on his wrists.
Bearden said the men wanted to know if he had guns and where they were. They untied his hands at one point so he could open the combination lock on a gun case.
The man with the gun then wanted his cash. Bearden said he and his wife are preparing to see the house. Furnishings had been removed. He had some cash in the bathroom, but not much. The men wanted more.
The smaller kidnapper pointed the pistol at Bearden’s head. “Why are you lying? We kill people for fun,” the man said.
Bearden said the two “pretty much ransacked the house” for about an hour. Then they started talking about demanding a ransom for him.
The lawyer said he thought a ransom would be tricky and dangerous. Law enforcement could be called in. He offered an alternative. “I’ll get you the money,” he said.
They asked about his bank account and suggested he get his wife to withdraw money. Then could bring it to the house. Bearden wanted to keep his wife away and safe. He said he would get the cash, he didn’t care about the money “I just want to see my wife and kids. Please don’t kill me,” he told them.
His proposal worked. The kidnappers had him put on clothes. Bearden said they told him to wear a long-sleeved sweater so the bank teller couldn’t see the red marks on his wrists left by the tied cords.
Bearden’s Chevrolet Suburban had been backed into the garage. He was put in the third seat and told to get face down. The kidnappers put a ski mask on him backwards so he could see nothing. One of them drove.
The SUV stopped twice. Bearden thinks they unloaded some of the items they stole from the house. They took him by a house in Port Arthur and took off his ski mask. He was going to the bank alone, but someone would be watching him, they warned. Someone would be at the house and would kill his family if he didn’t come through.
One of the kidnappers gave him his cell phone and turned it to the Face Time setting. He told Bearden to keep it on in the bank so they could see what he was doing. They got out and told him on Face Time to drive.
Bearden said other people walked into the bank when he did. He thought they might be with the kidnappers. He was cautious. When he got to a window, he told the teller he needed all his money, now.
Sometimes Mrs. Bearden would go by their house during an off-period at her school. He was worried about her walking in with someone dangerous inside; so he decided it was safe to write a simple note to the teller. He wanted the teller to call his wife and tell her not to go home.
The teller and others caught on that he was in trouble. Yet, Bearden didn’t want them to call law enforcement. “I didn’t want a team of cops swarming in,” he said. The bank gave him the money. The kidnappers told him to hold up the phone with Face Book to show no police were there.
He drove away from the bank near Central Mall and the kidnappers sent a text about where to leave the money. After the text, he got an idea, but first he had to make sure the men didn’t have his cell phone. He punched in his own number to send a text and used only the numeral “6.” That was his baseball jersey number for years.
None of the kidnappers mentioned that he sent a text. Bearden knew he could try his idea. He took a screen shot of the kidnapper’s cell phone bill with account. Then he sent the shot to his own phone before erasing the photo and the texts he had sent.
After getting a text about where to drop the money, he threw out the cash and phone out the window. He wasn’t going to stop. He sped away.
After a block, he pushed the OnStar emergency button in the Suburban. OnStar connected him with Port Arthur police. He was safe, though he still didn’t know if anyone was at his house. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was called and joined in the investigation. No one was at the house.
Bearden’s photo of the phone bill and text to himself led police straight to 20-year-old German Borjas-Benitz, who had a Houston address. Borjas-Benitz had been arrested in Jefferson County for outstanding warrants the day before the kidnapping. He gave the jail his phone number as the same phone given to Bearden to use.
When he had been arrested on May 7, he had been driving a white Infiniti G35. Henry Rivera-Antunez, 17, and Erik Pagoada-Bustillo, 17, had been in the car when he was arrested.
Orange County Sergeant David Lampman in the affidavit of probable cause said security videos from a bank on Roundbunch Road in Bridge City near Bearden’s house recorded a white Infiniti G35 traveling with Bearden’s Suburban as the traveled the morning of the crime. A video recording from the BASF refinery on Highway 73 near Port Arthur also shows the two vehicles traveling together.
Sergeant Lampman said Orange County detectives went to Port Arthur on Friday, May 12. A deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office stopped the Infinity in Port Arthur with Borjas-Benitz driving. During questioning, he gave details of the kidnapping and identified the other two.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office issued a media release saying all three of the accused are undocumented and from Honduras.
The affidavit says Rivera-Antunez told deputies that after his friend had been arrested Sunday, May 11, they were worried he would be deported. Rivera-Antunez used $800 from his savings to bail his friend out of jail. They got him out of jail at 2:54 a.m. Monday.
Rivera-Antunez, according to the affidavit, said he needed his money back; so they looked for a house to steal from. They found a big house to break into and thought no one was home. They took a baseball bat they found in the garage and one had a BB pistol.
They found a man sleeping inside the house and the kidnapping evolved.