In this March 15, 2011 photo, a woman holds up a baby that was rescued from a house where three people were killed by unknown gunmen in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. According to police, a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old baby were found inside the home's master bedroom, asleep. Children, from toddlers to the early teens, are increasingly falling victim to the brutal violence of a drug war that has cost over 34,000 lives in the last four years. (AP Photo/Raymundo Ruiz)
By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO
The crime report describes the body of the shooting victim in the plain, unadorned language of the police: Thin. Black hair, light brown skin, purple blouse. Bullet wound in chest. Then comes the age: About 4 years old.
Children, from toddlers to early teens, are increasingly falling victim to the brutal violence of Mexico’s drug war, a conflict that has killed more than 34,000 lives in the last four years.
“It is infuriating that they gunned down a little girl,” said Rosa Cruz Muller, the coordinator of the Guerrero state child welfare agency. “What could she have done to them? How could she defend herself?”
Once, Mexican cartel gunmen took out their targets with accurate fire, often leaving their children sitting unharmed in the same car. Now the killers increasingly seem to be willing to kill even the youngest of children.
The problem has become particularly acute in Acapulco, the Pacific coast resort that has become the scene of bloody cartel turf battles.
On Tuesday — two days before the 4-year-old girl was shot to death in a car along with her mother on an Acapulco street — the bullet-riddled bodies of two boys aged just 2 and 6 were found in their home, surrounded by at least 200 shell casings. The body of their 60-year-old grandmother was found with her arms wrapped around them as if trying to protect them.
Witness said a convoy of gunmen had been chasing a man who took refuge in the family’s house. It was unclear what happened to that man.
“We were indignant when we saw the killings … of the two boys, and their grandmother trying to protect them,” Cruz Miller said Friday.
On the same day the boys were slain, police reported that two 15-year-old boys were shot to death in separate attacks in Acapulco.
“It is very sad that we have to say this trend is increasing,” said Juan Martin Perez, director of the nonprofit group Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico.
The group estimates 994 children and youths under 18 were between late 2006 and late 2010, and says the number has risen since then.
“At least 1,000 boys and girls have been killed,” said Perez, whose groups has studied press reports from across the nation to estimate the number of underage victims because the government does not release figures breaking down killings by age.
At times, children have been caught in the crossfire of increasingly indiscriminate gunbattles between gangs. In some cases, youngsters have been killed when gunmen attacked their parents.
It was unclear Friday whether that was the case of the 4-year-old girl who was slain along with her mother in the Thursday attack. The victims’ names have not been released, and a report by police in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said the motive for the attack “remains unknown.”
Some local media reported the girl’s age as 6, rather than 4. Police said their age estimate was based on her appearance, since no identification was found on her.
The head of the Guerrero state detective bureau, Fernando Monreal Leyva, said the type of bullet casings found at the scene indicated the attack was probably the work of a drug gang. He did not say which one.
Monreal Leyva said that, like most victims of the drug war, the woman and child were from a poor family. He said their relatives refused to give police much information about the victims.
The problem isn’t just Acapulco’s.
In February, gunmen in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez chased down a man riding in an SUV with his 11-year-old son. The attackers shot both to death, and then burned their bodies.
The fate of children caught up in drug violence is grim even when they are spared in killings of their parents.
The problem of drug war orphans has gotten so bad in Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located, that the state government established a trust fund this month to help take care of such children. It will benefit both the children of victims as well as those of gang gunmen killed in the conflict.
A recently released study by the College of Chihuahua estimates drug violence has created 17,000 orphans in the state over the last three years. The fund is expected to benefit about 2,500 of those children.