Relatives worry about loved ones' fates amid Mexico violence.
Mexico’s drug war has hit home for some people north of the Rio Grande.
Relatives of missing residents in northern Tamaulipas rely on little more than scant news reports for information about their loved ones. Police and military officials in border communities south of the Rio Grande remain virtually unreachable over the phone, while Americans say authorities there seem to dismiss pleas for help in locating missing people.
A surge in drug violence has left dozens of Mexicans dead along the Texas border in recent weeks. Brazen attacks by masked gunmen have become a part of life for many.
Raw images of violence posted via social media show bodies splayed across bloody streets. Confusion reigns in northern Tamaulipas, where information about killings is hushed amid a media blackout and authorities remain notoriously tight-lipped about incidents of violence.
“The Zetas are here, heavily armed,” said one man from the Camargo area who asked not to be identified. “We hope this will pass soon. It is unbearable.”
The violence has been attributed to a three-way war among the area’s two dominant drug trafficking organizations and the federal government.
The Zetas — a paramilitary organization founded by former members of Mexico’s special forces — have historically served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel.
But in recent years, their operations have grown more independent to the point that they are now fighting with their old bosses for control of Tamaulipas’ valuable smuggling routes.
Some people in the United States claim to have received phone calls bearing chilling news of relatives being taken by the Zetas.
More than 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown on his country’s entrenched narcotics syndicates, according to government estimates.
In a community where information is limited, American outsiders whose families have been ripped apart by cartel violence have little choice but to venture into a battle zone with seemingly elusive government control.
‘WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?’
Masked gunmen stared past tinted windows in packs as their convoy of black SUVs roared through Reynosa. Packing machine guns, they lobbed a grenade toward the city’s central police station in the Rodriguez neighborhood, but missed.
“It landed inside my mother’s house,” said one man who asked not to be identified. “Then they told everyone to get out and they set the place on fire.”
Authorities said Thursday’s attack caused no injuries, but they did not elaborate on their investigation into the incident.
The man said he received a call from his niece, who witnessed the incident. She told her uncle that the assailants snatched her father away but gave no reason why.
“I just want to know what’s going on,” the man said. “Was it drug people, or police itself?”
Three separate attacks occurred that evening at police facilities in Reynosa. Federal authorities have not said whether they believe the incidents to be a coordinated strike.
“They burned everything,” the man said. “Why are they doing this?”
Maria Segura also got an unsettling phone call from Mexico recently.
A man called her from her husband’s cell phone two weeks ago. He had a message for her.
“He told me my husband passed away,” said Segura, 37, of Arkansas. “He told me he had (my husband’s) phone, his identification card and his soul. Then he told me there were a lot of bodies where he was.”
The stranger on the phone claimed to be a Zeta commander. Segura told him she didn’t believe him.
“He said he didn’t care if I believed him,” she said. “A million scenarios went through my mind.”
The woman’s husband, Eduardo Segura Bolaños, 26, had planned to sneak across the Rio Grande through Camargo two weeks ago with his younger brother. His wife doesn’t know if the pair made it across, or if they have fallen victim to recent gunfights in the city.
Jose Carrillo Hernandez is similarly worried about his own relative. He and his family have called local news outlets, Mexican consular officials and Tamaulipas police officials for weeks, clinging to a glimmer of hope that his brother is still alive.
Carrillo said his brother’s companion told him his brother was also taken away by men who claimed to be cartel members. Eduardo Carrillo Hernandez, 37, was also attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. He has been missing since April 10.
As recently as Saturday, gunmen opened fire on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande City-Camargo International Bridge. Separate attacks that same day left at least seven men dead south of Starr County.
Maria Segura said police officials at Camargo’s police station told the woman to visit the city if she wished to file a formal missing person report for her husband.
“Everyone tells me not to go there right now with everything that’s going on,” she said. “There’s crazy violence.”
‘A WAR ZONE’
Leonel Lopez considers himself a lucky man.
About two weeks ago, his son suspiciously stopped answering phone calls from his home in Camargo. Lopez, 65, of Rio Grande City, waited several days before contacting media outlets in the Rio Grande Valley for help.
But he quickly grew impatient. He rounded up a few friends, and the search party headed south.
“Me and my comrades went in and came out quickly,” he said. “We were all scared, but we needed to take control of it. We need fear for protection, but we can’t let it get to us.”
Lopez didn’t find his son during his trip to the city, but he later heard from him. His son had left Mexico recently with his wife and daughter. They are all safe and out of harm’s way, Lopez said.
He described Camargo as a “war zone” and said several buildings in his son’s neighborhood had apparently been burned down.
“Many people left,” he said. “There was a lot of destruction.”