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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

El Paso Man Killed in Shootout Led Cartel Hit Squad

El Paso Times

El Paso, Texas - An El Paso man killed by Mexican soldiers in a shootout on Monday was the mastermind behind the massacre of 16 people at a birthday party over the weekend in Juárez, federal officials said Tuesday night.

Adrian Ramirez, alias "Ramon, El 12 or El Rama," allegedly led a hit team for the Juárez drug cartel also known as La Linea, authorities said in statement that included artist renderings of other suspects in the slayings.

Federal officials said the team of shooters believed the people attending the party were members of a rival gang known as Artistas Asesinos. Officials refused to say whether any of the victims were gang members, but most of them were identified as students and athletes.

The attack shocked Mexico because of its brutality, and it caused an immediate response from officials, who offered a million peso -- about $76,000 -- reward.

Authorities said they discovered that Ramirez was from El Paso. El Paso law enforcement said they did not immediately have information about Ramirez.

Ramirez had an "EPT" tattoo on his abdomen, according to a photograph provided by Mexican authorities. Officials have said that "EPT" stands for El Paso, Texas, and that the insignia is also used by members of the El Paso-based Barrio Azteca prison gang.

Mexican officials said Ramirez, who is also suspected in the killing of four people at the Bandoleros nightclub on Monday, was shot and killed about 3 p.m. Monday after a chase that ended in a shootout with soldiers.

6:30am 2/2/10 -- Suspect in Custody in Juarez Birthday Party Massacre: Death toll rises to 16, a dozen more fighting to stay alive, in Saturday night bloodbath.

The death toll in Saturday night's massacre of Juarez high school and college students rose to 16 on Monday, and 12 others remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, including four in critical condition, the El Paso Times reported.

The dead ranged in age from 13 to 42 years old, and at least 11 were teenagers, who were shot late Saturday night when gunmen sealed off a block and stormed into a birthday party in a working-class, residential neighborhood in southeastern Juarez and began firing with large-caliber handguns and rifles, the Times said.

The victims were described as good kids, students and athletes, some of whom played American-style football -- not the typical targets in a drug war, the paper reported.

"These were good kids, sportsmen who had no relation to crime but all lines of investigation are open and authorities will ... find a cause," Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said.

Authorities said Monday night that the investigation indicates there were at least seven shooters, and investigators were questioning a suspect, the Times said.

Investigators also said the massacre may be related to a Nov. 4 execution-style slaying, in which an El Paso resident, 24-year-old Edgar Rene Ochoa, and three other men were lined up and killed outside an elementary school in south Juarez, the paper reported.

Two of the victims in the November shooting lived in the same neighborhood as the Saturday night massacre, according to the Times.

Although mass shootings at drug rehabilitation centers, restaurants and nightclubs have become almost commonplace in the violence that has claimed more than 4,400 lives in Juarez since a war began between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels in January 2008, this one is different, the Times said.

"This is considerably more shocking, in my view, from other massacres," Tony Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and an expert on the drug war in Juarez, told the Times. "It is easy to argue that if you are killed in Juarez, you must be a bad guy. You must have something to do with trafficking or gangs or organized crime."

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