Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas – Two boys were killed and two adults wounded when a group of uniformed men opened fire on a highway on an SUV carrying a family of 13 in Tamaulipas, a state in northeastern Mexico, survivors said.
Brothers Bryan, 5, and Martin Almanza Salazar, 9, died in the incident.
Martin Almanza Rodriguez, who was driving the SUV, said from his hospital bed Monday that he was wounded when the men opened fire on the vehicle, which was carrying his five children, wife and several other relatives.
Almanza Rodriguez and his wife, Cinthia Salazar, told reporters the group left Nuevo Laredo on Saturday afternoon for Matamoros beach, where they planned to spend Easter Sunday, and were attacked after passing a checkpoint guarded by men wearing military uniforms.
He said he slowed down as he passed through the checkpoint and was not told to stop, but the men opened fire as soon as the vehicle started to accelerate.
Almanza Rodriguez said he was shot several times in the arm and got out of the vehicle with his wife, leading the group to some bushes on the side of the road.
Bryan was hit while in his mother’s arms, Almanza Rodriguez said.
“The bullet was meant for me, but it killed my son,” Salazar said, adding that “they were minutes of terror, of fear.”
The uniformed men later went over to the group and apologized for the shooting, according to Salazar, who said a peasant helped her find her husband.
An ambulance took the wounded to a hospital in the town of Miguel Aleman and they were later transported to Nuevo Laredo.
Almanza Rodriguez’s relative, Carlos Alfredo Rangel, is recovering from leg wounds at a Nuevo Laredo hospital.
The family held a wake for the two children at their house in a poor neighborhood in Nuevo Laredo, located across the border from Laredo, Texas.
The Grupo 5 de Febrero Human Rights Committee said it gathered evidence on the shooting and planned to file a complaint with the Defense Secretariat.
Tamaulipas has been rocked by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
The violence has intensified in Tamaulipas and neighboring Nuevo Leon state since the appearance in the northern city of Monterrey in February of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned hired guns.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans inclined to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
Vowing to crush the cartels, President Felipe Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 Federal Police officers in the country’s most crime-plagued areas, yet the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, soaring from 2,700 in 2007 to 7,724 last year.
The 2010 death toll, according to a tally kept by the Mexico City daily El Universal, is at more than 2,500.