Funeral held in Houston for 12-year-old girl whose body was found in a creek

HOUSTON (AP) — A 12-year-old Texas girl who was found dead in a creek not far from her home was remembered on Thursday for her love of reading and animals.

Among those attending funeral services for Jocelyn Nungaray were Democratic Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Cecilia Abbott, wife of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We’re sad but we’re outraged and angry that this would happen in our community,” Whitmire, who was elected in December told mourners. “We’re going to monitor this case all the way through the criminal justice system.”

Jocelyn’s body was found in a creek on June 17. A medical examiner concluded that she had been strangled. Police say she had sneaked out of her house the night before. Prosecutors have charged two Venezuelan men who had entered the U.S. illegally with capital murder, and Republicans have used the death to highlight what they say are President Joe Biden’s failed immigration policies.

Jocelyn’s grandfather, Kelvin Alvarenga, said earlier this week that his granddaughter’s death could have been prevented if the country’s immigration system had been “redone.”

Also attending the service for Jocelyn was Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Both Greg Abbott and Patrick are harsh critics of Biden’s policies.

Many studies have found immigrants are less drawn to violent crime than native-born citizens. One published by the National Academy of Sciences, based on Texas Department of Public Safety data from 2012 to 2018, reported native-born U.S. residents were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally.

During a service held at a funeral home on Thursday, Jocelyn was remembered as a girl with a beautiful smile who loved animals, the television show “Stranger Things,” Harry Potter and baking. She also had eclectic musical tastes: One of her favorite songs, the early 1960s hit “Coney Island Baby” by The Excellents, was played as mourners watched a slideshow.

“I will always remember her big beautiful smile and beautiful bright eyes, and she had such beautiful curly locks,” said Jocelyn's great-aunt Julie Gonzales. She said Jocelyn was soft-spoken and reserved, and “beelined” for the book section wherever they went.

Venezuelan nationals Johan Jose Martinez-Rangel, 22, and Franklin Jose Peña Ramos, 26, are each being held on a $10 million bond in the Harris County Jail in Houston. The two men were arrested earlier this year near El Paso by the U.S. Border Patrol after entering the country without documentation. Both were released and given notices to appear in court at a later date. The Associated Press left phone messages Thursday evening with attorneys listed for the two men.

Prosecutors say Martinez-Rangel and Peña Ramos lured the girl under a bridge and remained with her there for more than two hours. They say the defendants took off her pants, tied her up and killed her before throwing her body into the creek.