By Diana Washington Valdez /
El Paso Times
Juárez police are engaged in a gun battle with unknown people near the U.S. border in an area near Paisano Drive on the West Side, said Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero.
He said the incident is just across the Rio Grande from the old La Hacienda Restaurant at 1720 W. Paisano.
"The Police Department is blocking off Paisano and we're prepared and we're going to continue being prepared, and we are going to prevent this from spilling over," Cordero said.
Residents in the area said they heard the shots being fired from nearby, though it was unclear whether any bullets had crossed the border into El Paso.
El Paso police are investigating a report that a stray bullet from Saturday's shootout in Juárez struck a vehicle in El Paso.
"At this time, El Paso police have received one report of a vehicle possibly being struck by a stray bullet," El Paso police said Sunday in a statement.
"Officers did check the surrounding area for any injuries or other property damage, but none was reported or located."
Police spokesman Detective Mike Baranyay said, "We are still investigating whether the bullet, if it came from Juárez, struck a parked or moving vehicle."
At the request of the U.S. Border Patrol, police closed West Paisano, between Santa Fe Street and Executive Boulevard for about 30 minutes on Saturday.
Officials said the street closure was taken as a safety precaution due to a shootout across the border between Mexican law enforcement and armed suspects.
The gunfire was reported in four Juárez neighborhoods, roughly across the border from the 1700 to 1900 blocks of West Paisano, where the old Hacienda restaurant, which is closed, and several apartments and homes are located.
Statement by Rick Perry on bullets from Juarez striking UTEP building
Gov. Rick Perry today issued the following statement regarding bullets from a gun battle in Juarez that struck a building on the campus of the University of Texas-El Paso over the weekend:
"For the second time in two months, bullets from a gun battle in the escalating drug war in Juarez have struck a building in El Paso, and I'd like to commend the swift action taken by local and state law enforcement in the area. By the grace of God, the stray bullets from these incidents have yet to injure or kill a Texan. It is unconscionable that the Obama Administration is gambling with American lives, betting that escalating violence from these cartels won't eventually shed the blood of innocent people on U.S. soil.
"We must ensure El Paso and other border communities remain a safe place for people to live, work and raise a family. It's time for Washington to stop the rhetoric and immediately deploy a significance force of personnel and resources to the border to protect our homeland."
In June, several bullets from a gun fight in Juarez struck El Paso City Hall. Nine months earlier, a building and a vehicle on the campus of the University of Texas-Brownsville were also hit by stray bullets from Mexico.
In early 2009, Gov. Perry asked the Obama Administration to approve the deployment of 1,000 Title 32 National Guard troops in Texas. While border security is a federal responsibility, it is a Texas problem, and Gov. Perry has not waited idly for Washington.
To fill in security gaps left by the federal government, Texas has invested more than $230 million over the last several years for new technology, improved communications equipment, aviation assets, boots on the ground, and other resources. Earlier this month, Gov. Perry hand-delivered a four-page letter to President Obama, detailing Texas' concerns about the escalating drug war threatening our state and reiterating the governor's request for more troops.
Bullet that struck UTEP building probably came from Juárez
UTEP Police Chief Cliff Walsh said today a bullet that hit the campus probably came from Juárez.
Walsh said the finding was preliminary, but there was no evidence that someone purposely shot at the south door of Bell Hall.
"Can we say conclusively, without a doubt? Absolutely not. But we believe that that round came from the gunfight out of Mexico," Walsh said this afternoon.
He said the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had joined the stray-bullet investigation. Walsh hopes the ballistics tests will yield decisive results.
Diana Natalicio, president of UTEP, said the bullet had to travel a very narrow passageway to find its way through campus. Bell Hall is a little less than a mile away from the site of the shooting reported by Chihuahua state police. In fact, the bullet had to travel at least half a mile on the U.S. side to reach that UTEP building.
"There's not much space there. It could have hit a lot of things, trees and buildings," Natalicio said.
She said there is a thin line of sight from Juárez to the south end of Bell Hall, a science building next to the UTEP library.
"It's possible, but it had to have been a very precise stray bullet," she said.
Leaders react to errant shot: 'There is nothing we can do about it'
Until recently, the Mexican Revolution may have been the last time bullets from Mexico hit El Paso.
But a stray bullet that hit the University of Texas at El Paso during the weekend now marks the second time in nearly two months that gunfire from Mexico may have crossed into El Paso and struck buildings, officials said.
Though it is not conclusive, law enforcement officials believe it is likely that both shootings were tied to violence in Juárez that did not target El Pasoans.
On Monday, city leaders and law enforcement attempted to temper concerns by assessing what measures were practical in dealing with the latest development.
The conclusion: not much can be done about random gunfire coming from another country.
"There is nothing we can do about it," said Mayor John Cook.
UTEP President Diana Natalicio echoed those sentiments.
"Overreacting only creates more panic, and I don't think we want to encourage or foster a notion that moving about in El Paso, Texas, is a highly risky proposition," she said. "It is very easy to exaggerate this, and I think we should not contribute to that."
Natalicio and Cook joined other city leaders who called for a measured approach to news of the stray bullets that have hit the university and El Paso City Hall. Most of them said that the city would continue to work on its response to certain incidents but added it is unreasonable to believe that something could be done to stop a stray bullet.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said there is no defense against stray bullets, but he said building a greater presence along the border helps deter most incidents.
McCraw said law enforcement in El Paso should be commended for their response to the shooting. Still, he said, securing the border takes a multilayered approach that includes constant patrols on land, by air and in the water.
"You can't plan for every scenario, but you have to have a plan that will allow you to respond to every scenario in a coordinated and integrated approach," he said.
The 2-year-old cartel war in Juárez has averaged about 11 murders a day this month. More than 1,920 people have been killed in Juárez this year, and a total of about 6,160 have been slain since 2008.
Law enforcement agencies said El Paso remains relatively untouched because of strong collaborations and increased efforts along the border.
Ten years ago, there were about 3,000 law enforcement officers in the El Paso region. That included 1,200 Border Patrol agents and 1,050 police officers.
Today, there are almost 6,000 officers in El Paso. The Border Patrol now has 2,700 agents in El Paso, and Customs and Border Protection agents now surpass 1,100. City police officers total about 1,088.
Michael Przybyl, an assistant U.S. Border Patrol chief for the El Paso sector who has been with the federal agency for 27 years, said stray bullet incidents are rare in El Paso.
"I do not know and cannot recall this ever happening before," Przybyl said. "This may have occurred somewhere else, but not around here."
Przybyl said law enforcement cannot plan for stray bullets, but agencies are prepared to deal with emergencies as they arise.
"We all work together and we work great with the Mexican authorities," he said.
Lloyd Easterling, the director of media relations for Customs and Border Protection, said that cooperation was evident from the way local, state and federal agencies on both sides of the border responded to Saturday's gunfire.
Easterling said law enforcement might not be able to plan for each situation, but agencies are collaborating with more vigor than ever before.
"Based on this strategy, we will see incidents of violence on both sides of the border decrease over time," he said.
But Mexico Federal Police spokesman Jose Ramon Salinas said federal police had not been notified as of Monday afternoon about any bullets crossing the border into El Paso during Saturday's confrontation in Juárez.
"We have not heard anything official from any North American agency," Salinas said.
Shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, residents in El Paso reported hearing at least 40 gunshots during the shootout that lasted 20 to 30 minutes.
Salinas said gunmen had attacked Juárez city police at that time.
He said a large number of federal police responded to the attack in a Juárez hillside neighborhood along the Rio Grande across from Paisano Drive.
One of the suspected gunmen, Joel Ernesto Cereceres, 24, was shot multiple times and killed at a home in the 1600 block of Vanadio street in colonia Popular, Chihuahua state police said.
State police in Juárez seized two .223-caliber bullet casings -- a caliber used in assault rifles often used by police.
Salinas said he did not know the number of rounds fired in the shootout and federal police may have picked up other casings. No one has been arrested in Juárez.
Salinas said three federal officers received minor injuries when their patrol truck crashed while rushing to back up other officers. An Internet report stating that an explosive was used in the attack on police was untrue, he said.
Late Monday morning, Mexican federal police were back in the neighborhood where the shootout occurred, searching for other suspects. They did not disclose the results of the investigation.
Most law enforcement officials on the Texas side said random gunfire is unpredictable.
But El Paso could soon become the poster child for more security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
State and federal officials said that beefing up patrol, technology and collaboration with Mexico would eventually help curb violence along the border.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the only way to curb violence is to boost security along the border and give more money to local and state law enforcement officials.
Cornyn also said that the U.S. government should increase intelligence gathering and share it with Mexico, and provide more equipment and training to Mexico, while respecting the country's sovereignty.
"If we can train police and military in Iraq and Afghanistan then I think we ought to be able to do that, and hopefully on a multinational basis, with the Mexican military and police," Cornyn said.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said in a statement that very little can be done to guard against a stray bullet.
He said more Customs and Border Protection officers are needed at ports of entry to help curb illegal weapons trafficking though he recognizes that will not stop stray bullets.
U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents a portion of El Paso, said in a statement that the incident was troublesome and underscored the need for more resources.