TUCSON, Ariz. -- Officials say five bodies found charred inside a burned-out SUV in the desert last weekend were likely victims of drug-related violence.
The five bodies were burned beyond recognition. Sheriff Paul Babeu said not even the victims’ gender is identifiable. He calls the investigation a homicide.
“It didn’t crash into something and then caught on fire, out in the middle of the desert, in an open area and was set afire,” Babeu said.
The white Ford SUV was found in the Vekol Valley, a harsh stretch of desert known for smuggling. A U.S. Border Patrol agent had tracked the SUV and then lost it. The driver had jumped off the highway and the SUV was found smoldering in the desert. One body lay in the back seat, four others were found laying down in the rear hatch.
Babeu said the incident was likely connected to cartel activity in Pinal County, though he declined to elaborate. The medical examiner's office has not yet completed its investigation.
EDITOR'S NOTE (6/5/2012): Updated information has led officials to believe this is a murder-suicide connected to a domestic incident and not cartel violence.