McALLEN — The sound of shattering glass coming from the family’s front door caught Marina Morfin’s attention that fateful Friday morning.
“I thought it was my dog,” the 36-year-old said almost two months later. “And when I got out of the room with my little girl behind me, that’s when I had three guys in my living room pointing guns at me, yelling at me, telling me not to move and that they were from the Zetas.”
Morfin and her 4-year-old daughter were caught in the middle of what authorities say is a drug-related home invasion that ended with the kidnapping of Morfin’s husband.
Authorities, however, never mentioned the assailants claimed to be part of one of Mexico’s bloodiest cartels.
The Zetas have orchestrated some of the most gruesome massacres in the country’s recent history. Members claimed responsibility for the slaying of 193 immigrants found in mass graves last year in San Fernando, a small town just 70 of miles south of Brownsville. They most recently dumped 49 dismembered bodies along a highway in the oil refinery town of Cadereyta and have contributed to the more than 50,000 deaths since Mexican President Felipe Calderon waged war against drug organizations in 2006.
The three gunmen who stormed into Morfin’s home March 30 were highly skilled and organized, she said. They wore matching camouflage outfits that included caps and face masks and spoke only in fluent Spanish.
“They told me who they were and they told me not to look at them, so I closed my eyes,” Morfin said. “I was so scared. I really thought they were going to kill me.”
The mother of three tried reasoning with the men, telling them she owned nothing of worth.
“We’re not coming to get anything,” they told her. “We’re coming to ask your husband a couple of questions.”
Armando Morfin, 40, had left the house about five minutes earlier. He usually drove his 8-year-old son, one of his 4-year-old twin daughters and other neighborhood children to school at 7:30 a.m.
He owned a landscaping business that provided “no luxuries” for the family and he was sick, Marina Morfin said. Doctors diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, in December.
“Not once did they ask me for his name. Not once did they tell me his name,” his wife said of the home invaders.
But Armando Morfin was listed as a criminal associate of the drug underworld in various law enforcement databases, authorities said. Public records indicate he was sentenced to eight years in prison for a second-degree felony of possession of marijuana in 1999.
Yet, he wasn’t home when the alleged Zetas arrived — only his wife and 4-year-old daughter were.
The masked men ordered Marina Morfin and the child to a room, where they asked the woman to lay face down on the floor.
“They were trying to take my girl away from my stomach and I told them, ‘If you take my girl away, she’s going to start crying.’ And that’s when one of the guys said, ‘Well if she starts to cry, you’re going to get hurt,’” she recalled.
Marina pleaded with her attackers and persuaded them to let her sit on the floor with her daughter between her legs. They blindfolded the woman, gagged her and tied her hands and legs in front of her. Then the masked men did the same to the 4-year-old girl.
“Next thing I know, I hear him coming and he gets off the car,” Marina Morfin said about her husband. “And that’s when he opens the door and yells out loud, ‘What the (expletive)?’”
A struggle ensued, with the alleged Zetas overpowering Armando Morfin.
They grabbed the family’s cell phones and car keys before leaving Marina Morfin with some final words.
“He tells me not to yell, not to cry and not to call the cops — that my husband would come back in a half hour to untie me. And that’s it. He never came back. I had to untie myself,” she said as she began to break down.
The gunmen drove away with her husband in the family’s minivan. An irrigation worker found the torched vehicle in a field near La Blanca about 30 minutes before the kidnapping was reported to authorities.
Armando Morfin has yet to be seen.
“We haven’t heard anything,” his wife said. “We don’t know where he’s at. I don’t know what happened to him or anything.”
Marina Morfin and her children no longer live in Texas.
“My family was scared for my life,” she said. “We think they might come back for us — for me.”
She struggles to speak to her children about their father’s whereabouts.
“I don’t know how to explain to my kids what happened,” she said. “I haven’t been able to sleep. I cry. I don’t know what to do. I have three little kids with me, and I see no end to this.”
The twin girl who endured the ordeal also has problems coping.
“She gets scared a lot and she doesn’t talk,” her mother said. “If she sees me scared or sees me crying, she’ll show me with her hands what happened to us because she saw that they tied me up and she saw that they tied her up, too.”
Her daughter is one of several children present during violent home invasions throughout Hidalgo County. According to Monitor records, at least six children have been present in three of the six fatal home invasions documented within the past two years.
Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of a home invasion in San Juan during which a 3-year-old boy watched as his father Roberto Hinojosa, 21, was gunned down. His grandmother told The Monitor last year the child was undergoing therapy and counseling.
The Gulf Cartel allegedly ordered the hit after Hinojosa stole more than a ton of pot from the drug organization, authorities said.
Four of the six home invasions that resulted in deaths since 2010 are connected in some sort to drug trafficking, according to Monitor archives. That’s a little more than 66 percent.
TRACKING AND COMPARING
It’s almost impossible to determine how many home invasions are reported throughout Hidalgo County — or anywhere else for the matter.
Many police departments throughout the United States do not keep track of them and are not obligated to do so. Those in Hidalgo County are no different, with only a handful of them keeping record.
The offense is usually classified as either a robbery or aggravated assault in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, making it difficult to quantify because not all aggravated assaults and robberies are home invasions.
For people living on the U.S. –Mexico border, the lack of comprehensive data on the subject creates misconceptions and confusion, especially when the occasional violent ones make headlines.
‘PLEASE, JUST LET HIM GO’
Marina clings to hope.
“I have to have hope because if there’s no hope, there’s no life,” she said. “I know he’s going to come back to me. He has to. He has three wonderful kids who love him and I adore him.”
She celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary about two weeks ago — alone.
And even though she continues to wait patiently, she knows she may never see him again.
“Thank god that they didn’t touch me. They didn’t do anything to me or to my daughter,” she said. “I just don’t know what they’re doing to my husband.”
Armando Morfin’s family is offering a monetary reward for anyone with information leading to his whereabouts.
“Please, just let him go,” his wife pleads. “I don’t know what he’s done wrong that they had to take him away. Just let him go. He’s sick. He’s more use to us than to them. His kids need him. His family needs him. I need him.”