By Alejandro Martinez Cabrera /
El Paso Times
Juarez police found, chased and exchanged gunfire with car-theft suspects Tuesday morning. The suspects crashed at the intersection of Malecn Avenue and Xochimilco Street, less than half a mile from the border. The gunfire prompted the lockdown of three El Paso schools.
Mayor Héctor "Teto" Murguía disagreed with El Paso authorities and said on Wednesday he doesn't believe a bullet that struck a woman in Downtown El Paso on Tuesday came from Juárez.
Instead, Murguía hinted authorities should investigate whether the bullet was fired from the U.S. or an American weapon smuggled into Mexico.
"I think it is unlikely that the bullet was from Ciudad Juárez. They would be better served looking at 'Fast and Furious' operations," Murguía said referring to the name of a botched U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation that allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico.
On Tuesday about 11 a.m., Maria Romero, 48, who was shopping in the 200 block of East Overland Avenue, was shot in the leg by a stray bullet. Romero was treated for a minor wound at Universal Medical Center and released the same day.
The incident could be the first time a person in El Paso has been wounded by a bullet fired in Juárez since drug-related violence began in 2008.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said at a news conference Tuesday that he believed the bullet was fired from Juárez during a confrontation between police officers and two car thieves that occurred around the same time near the Rio Grande.
The bullet that hit Romero was a .223-caliber, a type of ammunition used by Juárez police assault rifles, and didn't match the caliber of firearms reportedly seized from the carjacking suspects.
According to the Chihuahua state's prosecutor's office, authorities retrieved 83 .223-caliber bullet casings and nine 9mm casings.
El Paso police estimated the shot was fired from about 3,000 feet (or 0.56 miles) from where the woman was hit. They said it is not an unusual distance for a rifle round.
Juarez Mayor Hector Murgola believes the bullet that hit a woman in El Paso Tuesday came from the United States.
Murguía questioned whether a bullet fired in Juárez could have traveled that far with buildings and cars. Murguía cited city technicians and said the bullet couldn't have gone farther than 750 meters, or 0.47 miles.
"From where the bullet came, and where it landed, the distance is not close," he said.
However, ballistics experts disagreed.
"I'd say it can easily go over a mile," said Max J. Scott, owner of a crime scene reconstruction firm, Forensic Trio, in Lafayette, Colo.
Ballistics experts with RNA Consulting in Los Altos Hills, Calif., said that .223-caliber bullets would not be recommended to shoot a target 3,000 feet away, but added they could travel the distance without much problem.
El Paso Mayor John Cook acknowledged there was no way to conclusively determine whether the bullet was fired from Juárez without a ballistics test on the bullet that injured Romero and the weapons fired during the confrontation. But Cook said that after looking at the evidence, it appeared "very possible" the bullet came from the other side of the border.
"Intuitively, you'd think it's more than coincidental that at the same exact moment there's a gunbattle in Juárez, a bullet hits someone a half a mile away, considering that assault rifles will fire bullets over a mile," he said. "It would seem reasonable there's a possibility that that's where it came from, especially since there were no other reports of gunfire."
Murguía said he would like some proof and a detailed report of what happened on Tuesday and how a stray bullet landed in El Paso before he or anyone else "blames" the Juárez municipal police officers for the incident. And even if the bullet came from Juárez, the incident should be seen as a rare occurrence, he said.
After hearing reports of Murguía's comments, Cook responded by offering to conduct the needed tests in El Paso.
"There's one way we could find out for sure" what happened, Cook said. "We're sending the bullet to ballistic tests, and if he wants to send us all the weapons involved, we can check them. If there were assault rifles in that shooting in Juárez that fire .223s, we can compare bullets that we fire in the fire range. But I doubt that they would allow us to do that."
Wednesday's incident once again raised concerns about cross-border violence -- concerns that both Cook and Murguía have repeatedly tried to abate in their cities.
Cook has defended El Paso's image as the country's safest city by saying there is no evidence that bloodshed in Juárez has spilled over. Murguía, along with Chihuahua Gov. César Duarte and Mexican President Felipe Calderón, often point to declining crime statistics from last year to argue that public safety has improved.
The two mayors said Wednesday they hadn't had a chance to discuss Tuesday's incident. Cook said each has left phone messages for the other, and Murguía said he would contact Cook as soon as possible.
Murguía hinted he was open to a cross-border investigation, but he did not confirm one would take place.
"We're going to do everything possible to collaborate with each other and ensure that Ciudad Juárez and El Paso as a region come out as least-hurt as possible (from this incident) and things don't get tense," he said.