Nogales, Sonora, which has long escaped the level of violence seen in other border communities, can’t say that anymore.
The front pages of local newspapers are heavy on crime and murder as a wave of violence continued this week with the discovery of three bodies Monday, apparent victims of strangulation.
The first case was reported at about 5:10 a.m. when two bodies were found on the south side of the city.
One victim wore a sweat shirt but was naked from the waist down, while the other was fully clothed. Medical examiners determined the cause of death was asphyxiation by choking.
An hour later, another victim was found downtown, about a mile from the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry. The woman’s name was not released, but neighbors said they knew her nickname as “La Chapis.” She had signs of strangulation and had a black cable around her neck.
On Saturday, near midtown, neighbors looked on as 28-year-old Ivan Elizalde Galaviz was assassinated inside his older-model Buick Century. Witnesses said the car was sprayed with at least 30 bullets. Police have not determined a motive or made arrests.
The spike in killing began after more than 11 tons of marijuana were confiscated in a rural community east of Nogales, Sonora, and continued after Mexico marines and naval troops killed Arturo Beltran Leyva in Curenavaca state last month. Federal officials warned of increased violence after the death of the drug cartel capo as his minions and other cartels struggled to fill the power vacuum.
In 2008, in the wake of a 200 percent increase over the previous year in homicides across the line, the mayors of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Ariz., convened for a press conference in late December to reassure travelers that the border was safe.
According to an unofficial tally by Radio XENY in Nogales, Sonora, the surge of violence in 2009 brought the number of homicides to 136, up by six from 2008.
This time, there have been no press conferences to allay the fears. The shootings have become more spectacular and there seems to be no regard for bystanders.
A popular taco stand in mid-town was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Three were killed and five others injured.
According to state police, the dead in the Dec. 20 attack were two patrons, ages 18 and 50, as well as the 32-year-old clerk. The injured were employees and other patrons.
On Dec. 29, two men were found executed at La Soriana Department Store on the south side of the city. The silver Chevrolet sedan was towed to the Sonora State Police impound yard where the bodies of the two men were removed as per orders from state prosecutor.
Two other men were killed and another injured the same day in the parking lot at a grocery story on Calle Ruiz Cortinez. The incident occurred at about 1:30 p.m. about two miles from the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry.
The next day, the attacks moved even closer to the border on Calle Reforma, a stone’s throw from the United States-Mexico boundary line. Witnesses told Nuevo Dia newspaper that a “convoy” of gunmen first arrived at a drive-through store, doused the inside with gasoline and torched the building.
They then went to a nearby home, knocked down the door and threatened a female occupant. She told police the attackers realized they had the wrong home and went next door. They torched that house with gasoline. Both the store and home were declared a total loss.
Minutes later two other nearby homes were riddled with gunfire, presumably by the same group of gunmen.
Maria Castillo, who lives with her family on a street in Nogales, Ariz., that parallels the border as well as the terminus of Interstate 19, said she smelled gunpowder about the time of the attacks. The family was having diner between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when they heard gunshots from the south, Castillo said.
Later, vehicles slowly cruised along her street, their occupants seemingly trying to get a glimpse of what was happening on the other side of the border fence, she said.
Earlier at about 1:35 p.m., the 38-year-old franchise owner of a beer distributor on Calle Reforma was shot twice in the legs by gunmen carrying AK-47 automatic assault rifles, according to Nuevo Dia.