Mariana Alvarado Arizona Daily Star
The silence is pierced by an anguished cry.
"Everybody in town knows who the killers are ... They burned down my house, my ranch, they threw grenades. I want justice!"
It's Jorge Mendoza López, whose three brothers were kidnapped and presumed killed last Sept. 17, presumably by drug traffickers. His shouts get attention of the crowd gathered at the plaza Tuesday and distract Tubutama's mayor, Santos Castañeda Barceló, who asked for a moment of silence to mourn the killing of three town officials.
Mendoza López demands answers from Sonoran legislators, who have traveled from Hermosillo to this mission town 40 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an armed convoy of politicians, officials and reporters. Guarding the group are dozens of armed agents from the Mexican military and Sonoran police.
The Sonoran Legislature has moved the day's regular session to Tubutama to publicly approve a new law that lets municipalities like Tubutama request state police resources.
Perhaps no place in Mexico needs help like Tubutama. It used to be a popular stop on tours of Americans wanting to see beautiful mission churches.
Then drug gangs started warring on the roads connecting northern Sonora's mission towns. The town's last policeman, 34-year-old Julio Adrián Paz Robles, was killed May 29. Mayor Castañeda Barceló's staff members Gerardo González Méndez and Sergio Vázquez Díaz were shot dead a year ago in San Jorge - a village close to Tubutama. Their bodies were found inside a green pickup without license plates.
Last July 1, a shootout between rival traffickers competing for drugs and smuggling routes left at least 21 people dead and six wounded, Sonora's attorney general says. The violent confrontation occurred on a deserted stretch between Tubutama and Sáric, about 12 miles south of the Arizona border near Sasabe.
Since then, hardly anybody dares to drive those roads. Grocery distributors no longer make deliveries. The town's only gas station has closed and now serves as a checkpoint where members of the Mexican military sometimes monitor who goes to and from Tubutama.
Many of the town's residents have fled. Mexico's census bureau says Tubutama and its six surrounding villages have 1,751 residents. Mayor Castañeda Barceló estimates that at least 300 have left.