A suspected Mexican drug gang gunned down two cars carrying families with ties to the U.S. consulate on Saturday, killing an American couple and a Mexican man in the country’s deadliest city.
Three young children survived the shoot-out in Ciudad Juarez, including the couple’s baby, who was found crying in the backseat of their vehicle.
The pair were identified as consular employee Lesley A. Enriquez, 35, and her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs, 34. Redelfs was a detention officer at the El Paso County Jail. The third person killed was identified as the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate.
The killings, which occurred in broad daylight, came amid a surge in bloodshed along Mexico’s border with Texas and drew condemnation from the White House. Mexico’s president expressed outrage and promised a fast investigation to find those responsible.
The State Department authorized U.S. government employees at Ciudad Juarez and five other U.S. consulates in northern Mexico to send family members out of the area because of concerns about rising drug violence. The cities are Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros.
“It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized,” the department said in a statement issued Sunday.
Authorities put suspicion on members of a gang of hit men allied with the Juarez drug cartel. That theory is based on “information exchanged with U.S. federal agencies” helping in the investigation, according to a statement Sunday from the joint mission of soldiers and federal police overseeing security in Ciudad Juarez.
While putting the blame on the drug gang, police offered no information on a possible motive in the slayings. U.S. State Department spokesman Fred Lash said only that the three dead people were at the same party before the attacks that occurred minutes apart Saturday afternoon.
Several U.S. citizens have been killed in Mexico’s drug war, most of them people with family ties to Mexico. It is very rare for American government employees to be targeted, although attackers hurled grenades at the U.S. consulate in the northern city of Monterrey in 2008.
Lash said the decision was based not only on Saturday’s killings but also on a wider pattern of violence and threats in northern Mexico in recent weeks. The State Department noted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has advised American citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of the Mexican states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.
Ten minutes before that killing, police in another part of the city found the body of the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate.
Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, a Mexican citizen, was shot to death in his car, while his two children, ages 4 and 7, were wounded, according to the state prosecutors office. The children were hospitalized.
Civilians have increasingly gotten caught in the middle of drug gang violence that has made Ciudad Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world, with more than 2,500 people killed last year alone.
The three died during a particularly bloody weekend in Mexico, with nearly 50 people killed in apparent gang violence. Nine people were killed in a gang shootout early Sunday in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, one of Mexico’s spring break attractions.
The office of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s office said he “expresses his indignation” and “his sincerest condolences to the families of the victims” of Saturday’s attack.
Calderon “reiterated the Mexican government’s unwavering compromise to resolve these grave crimes,” his office said.