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MISSION — Cesar Villegas, 17, accused of pointing a gun at teenagers demanding money and cell phones was dumbfounded to hear from Mission Municipal Judge Jonathan Wehrmeister that he could face up to life in prison during his arraignment on five charges of armed burglary on Nov. 12.

Villegas and the other three suspects have confessed to other crimes in the Mission, McAllen, Pharr and San Juan areas, police said. Other items were found in the suspect’s vehicle that might lead to other crimes committed within the past two weeks. Villegas was arrested in connection with burglaries that occurred on Nov. 11.

According to the teenaged victims, the suspects approached them while they were walking home or outside of their vehicles. The suspects would then hold them up at gunpoint while taking their cell phones and cash or wallets. The suspects searched one victim’s vehicle, but all that was taken was a wallet and a cell phone.

Officials followed tips given by the victims, including a partial license plate number, and located the suspects in San Juan.

Victor Manuel Mendoza, 17, Joe Anthony Garza, 22, and Karina Marisol Garza, 17, are in custody with the McAllen Police Department and were arraigned Nov. 12.

Mission Police Chief Leo Longoria said the suspects were singling out teenagers they saw talking on pricey cell phones, engaging them in conversation and gauging whether they would be a difficult victim or not. The suspects would even ask victims if they could borrow their cell phone.

“What’s alarming is we are seeing a trend of criminal activity in an upswing in some areas of crime,” Longoria said.

Longoria and Assistant Police Chief Martin Garza said incidents like this should encourage teens to stay inside after curfew and be aware of their surroundings if they have to be outdoors late at night. Parents should also encourage their children to follow city ordinances and be aware of where their children are.

Longoria said community members need to report things that look suspicious.

“We need to stay together, stick together, report incidents, have faith in our local communities and federal and state agencies so that we can combat it,” Longoria said. “Who are we trying to kid? Everybody knows that the situation along the banks of the Rio Grande is changing. We’re not trying to instill any fear in anybody, but we’re not fooling anybody either.”

Villegas, who said he would be hiring his own lawyer, is being held on a combined $1.25 million bond.

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