Martin Ramirez at hearing in April, 2020
Martin Ramirez was born on Thanksgiving Day, 1975 in Mexico, which he eventually left for the U.S. He married a sweet woman and in 2004, when he was 28, his wife Rosa gave him a daughter. Then they had another daughter in 2008, and their last little girl arrived in 2013. The parents bought a home in Clark County, Nevada.
But Ramirez struggled. He never became fluent in English. He did not become an American citizen.
There are court records from Nevada describing an incident in which Ramirez allegedly went into the bedroom of one child and screamed at her that he had a gun “with 17 bullets all for you!” Then he showed Rosa a holstered gun, reportedly. A restraining order was issued in that case.
In 2016 the couple divorced. Ramirez was 40 years old then, and his three girls were aged 12, 8, and 3. The house in Nevada was sold. Each parent expected to receive $33,000 from the house sale, according to records, but then there was another court hearing, and Ramirez’s share was directed into a fund intended for future child support.
Rosa gathered up her three girls and they moved to Oceanside. She had family there, and especially her brother Oscar was helpful.
Rosa was granted sole custody of the children by the courts in Nevada. Ramirez was allowed to visit his children only with approval of the mother. Rosa did allow him to see his daughters maybe once or twice a year; those contacts and arrangements were always made through her brother.
In the fall of 2018, Ramirez made arrangements with his brother-in-law Oscar so he could have lunch with his three girls and then go to a movie.
It was hot that Friday, October 12, 2018. Oscar was the one who dropped off his three nieces to meet their dad for lunch and a movie. The handoff was at the Pit Stop Diner on Mission Avenue in Oceanside.
Oscar went on with his day. After a while he realized he did not hear from the eldest daughter; she was supposed to phone him in an hour or so. Oscar had loaded onto her cell phone a special tracking app, so he could see her location. Maybe he did not load it correctly, or maybe he wasn’t doing something right, because he couldn’t discover her location.
It took him several tries, but eventually Oscar was able to speak with Ramirez by phone. The father said they were not going to the movies, instead he was doing a chore, he was delivering a utility trailer somewhere. It was not clear to Oscar, but apparently they had left Oceanside and were headed in the direction of downtown San Diego.
At some point the eldest daughter was able to connect with her Uncle Oscar. At that moment she was distressed, she believed they were headed for Mexico. She saw the guards, and signs in Spanish, and realized they were going to cross the border.
A license plate reader at the border did record Ramirez’s red 2001 Pontiac mini-van going into Mexico.
Ramirez phoned Oscar. “The conversation was hostile,” Oscar later said. He described his demeanor as angry, with a lot of profanity.
Ramirez expressed anger about the sale of his home in Nevada, and he demanded a lot of money to return the girls back to the U.S. The number he wanted fluctuated between forty and fifty thousand dollars, according to Oscar, who said Ramirez “was hard to negotiate with.”
Oscar suspected that his brother-in-law was probably in a hotel in Tijuana. So Oscar decided that he would cross the border and look around for the red mini-van, or maybe he could spot Ramirez, or even find the girls.
The negotiations to return the girls went on through the weekend.
Eventually Rosa managed to get a loan from the Navy Federal Credit Union, in the amount of $18,000. And the family was able to scratch together another $500.
So Oscar was able to negotiate that $18,500 dollars would be deposited into an account for Ramirez, and then a balance of $20,000 would be paid later, after the girls were returned.
Ramirez would not reveal the location of their hotel until the money was deposited. He sent information for a Bank of America account which had his brother’s name on it, Jose Ramirez.
Rosa deposited the money into the account her ex-husband specified, and then she took a photo of the deposit receipt and she texted that to Oscar, who sent it on to Ramirez.
Ramirez eventually texted the name of the hotel, and Oscar immediately went to the City Junior Hotel in Tijuana. The three children were inside the front lobby. Oscar never did see his brother-in-law or his vehicle, that entire weekend in Tijuana.
The two eldest girls were interviewed by police after they were back.
The eldest girl said their father sometimes took the SIM card out of their phones. Both girls said that each time their father had to leave the room, he took their phones, and sometimes he took the littlest girl with him. Over the days, sometimes they watched TV, and sometimes they went around town, but when their father saw Mexican authorities he got agitated and speeded up and said the police better not try to come and get him.
The older girls said they were aware their father was demanding money from mom to return them to the U.S. He told the girls that she owed him money from the divorce, and they were not going back to the U.S. until that money was deposited into the account.
In the town of Paulsbo, Washington, Ramirez tried to access the money. He used an ATM in a convenience store there, trying to get into the Bank of America account in his brother’s name.
When Ramirez discovered that the bank account was frozen, he phoned Oscar.
Oscar said Ramirez was agitated, “You guys are liars! I knew you called the police!” And he allegedly threatened the family, "You know what is going to happen!” They started to argue, and then he hung up the phone.
Ramirez was held for some months in Washington State, then he was extradited into California. He was booked into jail in San Diego County in June, 2019.
Ramirez appeared in a San Diego courtroom in the spring of 2020. His defense attorney asserted that Rosa “did not ever tell Martin that he could not take the girls to Tijuana.” And the father never threatened to use force or harm, not against his daughters, nor against the person from whom he demanded money.
And the money he requested from his ex-wife was not ransom money, Ramirez’s attorney said; it was proceeds from the sale of their home, it was money due to him. She insisted Ramirez did not intend to kidnap his own daughters.
At the end of a two-hour pre-trial hearing, Judge Brad Weinreb ordered Ramirez to face charges at trial.
The defendant pleaded not-guilty to four felonies, three kidnappings, and one extortion.
At his most recent hearing, on January 19, through an interpreter, Ramirez demanded to represent himself. He intends to act as his own attorney at his next court date, February 17, currently set for jury trial.