Nicolas Hernandez Oceguera, 76, of Calexico, a known “sobador,” or practitioner in indigenous massage healing, was arrested and jailed this week on suspicion of two count of sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman he was treating for a sports-related injury in his home. Oceguera was freed on bond on Thursday, Sept. 23. | IMPERIAL COUNTY JAIL PHOTO/STOCK IMAGE GRAPHIC
CALEXICO — Two woman have come forward in the past two days to say they were molested by a local “sobador” free on bond following his arrest by Calexico police on unrelated counts of sexual assault.
Both women who are in their 50s, one from Calexico and one from outside the city, told police they are alleged victims of 76-year-old Nicolas Hernandez Oceguera, a well-known “sobador,” or traditional massage healer, who was arrested on suspicion of two counts of sexual assault against a 19-year-old Calexico woman on Sept. 22.
Oceguera has been at home since being released from Imperial County jail on a $55,000 bond on Sept. 23. He has yet to be arraigned in the case.
After hearing of the allegations on social media, the women came forward, the first on Tuesday, Oct. 5, Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said.
That case allegedly occurred about a decade ago, he said.
“She never came forward because she was very embarrassed, and she didn’t know what her options were at the time,” Gerardo added.
A day later, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, the second woman contacted police. She alleged the crime had occurred about three or four months ago.
Both cases were different in the extent of what Oceguera is accused of doing. The decade-old case, Gerardo said, would be classified as a rape. The second case he described as an alleged battery.
It isn’t clear at this point whether these cases will become new charges or if the victims will simply be witnesses to strengthen the Sept. 22 case involving the 19-year-old, the chief said.
“At this point, we’re combining all the cases … I already spoke to the assistant district attorney; they’re going to be waiting for this report,” Gerardo explained on Thursday morning, Oct. 7.
Assistant Imperial County District Attorney Heather Trapnell confirmed on Thursday that no charges have been filed against Oceguera yet, and on Wednesday, the case was kicked back to Calexico P.D. for additional information.
Gerardo said the DA’s Office had requested access to the department’s taped interviews of the suspect and the victim; “we provided them the access two days ago,” he added.
“I don’t know if there’s a statute of limitations on the first one that’s 10 years old, but there might be some exceptions,” Gerardo said. “That’s something that I got to talk to the DA about.”
Police would like to see if there are even more cases yet to come forward, Gerardo said, “to prove that this guy is a serial predator.”
On Sept. 23, the chief said police had never had any prior interactions with Oceguera until the 19-year-old reported the crime. Oceguera was arrested after he and the victim were interviewed, and Oceguera admitted his guilt, Gerardo said.
The woman had gone to Oceguera’s home in the 600 block of Grant Street, where she was seeking a form of massage therapy for a sports injury when the alleged crime occurred.
Oceguera was known around the Valley for many years a practitioner of sobada, a traditional indigenous form of healing that has deep roots in the Aztec and Mayan cultures of Modern-day Mexico and Central America. In essence, he was an unlicensed massage therapist.
He was alleged to have committed one count of oral copulation and one count of forcible sexual penetration with an object on the teen, who quickly ran out of the house and called her mother, who called police.
The young woman’s mom has been key to keeping up pressure on the Oceguera by contacting local media in an effort to find more victims. The mother expressed remorse to this newspaper of having ever taken her daughter to Oceguera, who she said was a family acquaintance they had known for years.
On Thursday morning, the mother, who has not revealed her name so to not identify her daughter, knew going public with the story last month was the right thing to do.
“I hope that more people come forward … this animal has to be stopped,” she said on Oct. 7. “More people need to come forward. They can’t be scared. They’re not alone. There’s counseling. … My daughter is even willing to talk to these victims, so that they can form some type of support group.”
Gerardo agreed. He said he would try to find the new alleged victims some form of help in dealing with the assault.
“I’m trying to reach out to get them counseling sessions, to offer the counseling sessions that we have to through the county, to be their voice,” he added. “This has to be traumatic for somebody that was holding this in for 10 years.”
Traditional sobada practitioners continue to these types of cases as a black mark against a time-honored tradition. In Metztli Lopez Torres’ case, she can see how there is a certain level is mistrust among a larger populace because many of the traditional sobadoras are unlicensed.
“In the United States, it’s not well known (outside the border and Hispanic communities,” Lopez said on Thursday. “But really, we’re trying to continue a tradition of helping other people. That’s the main reason we do this work, to heal people.”
Lopez has been a birthing sobadora and “womb healer” for about 12 years, passed down through elders in her home state of Veracruz, Mexico. She has been practicing in the United States for the past four years, established as Luna Mama Services in the San Diego area.
“What happened is these (alleged) victims’ case is not only bad for us as people but as a practice,” Lopez said. “What we do is respectful. We’re learning from our elders, and a lot of indigenous midwives are healers. We’re struggling, trying to say, this is something safe, this is something that is it’s good for health.”
(This story was last updated at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, with additional information about the Police Department’s exchange of information with the DA’s Office.)