MEXICO CITY — Police have arrested two men and seek a third for the weekend stabbing-murders of eight members of an extended family in Ciudad Juarez, an attack that spread fear in the Mexican border city that was once a world murder capital.
Officials said the killings were motivated by a $120 gambling debt owed by one of the victims.
The five adults and three small children were knifed and hacked overnight Saturday inside their home in a poor neighborhood on the city’s east side.
Members of the family’s Jehovah’s Witness congregation discovered the bodies when several of the victims didn’t show up as planned Sunday morning.
The victims were a 60-year-old woman, two of her daughters, their spouses and three very young children. A 2-month-old infant was spared.
Jesus Mendoza and Edgar Lujan, both employees of the city’s survival-wage factories, allegedly took revenge on the family after Maximo Romero, 27, refused to honor a lost bet on dog fights involving his pit bull terriers, prosecutor Enrique Villarreal told a news conference in Juarez.
“The situation got out of control,” he said.
Killed along with Romero were his wife, a son, 6, and daughter, 4, as well as his wife’s mother and sister, her husband and their daughter, also 4 years old. All were targeted because at least one of the killers was known to the family and could be identified by survivors, the prosecutor said.
The massacre has unhinged Juarez, which lately has enjoyed a dramatic drop in gangland-style violence that’s claimed more than 10,000 lives there in the past six years. From a high of 3,600 homicides in 2010, the city of 1.3 million is on track to record fewer than 500 this year.
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“There’s a lot of indignation, much anguish in society because it’s impossible to believe that a group of people enter a house, subdue eight people and then carry out an orgy of blood,” columnist Francisco Ortiz Bello wrote in El Diario, the city’s largest newspaper. “Who can be capable of stabbing to death three little ones?”
This massacre was the second in as many months on Juarez’s poor and violent east side, near the US border.
Ten people, including a young girl, were gunned down while celebrating victory in a local baseball tournament in late September. Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border suggest those killings were revenge for an earlier gangland murder carried out by one or more of the victims.
Police investigators’ well-earned reputation for fabricating both the guilty and their motives in such high-profile crimes only enhances the public’s anxiety.
Mexico’s supreme court this month freed a man accused of the January 2010 killing of 16 people, most of them teenagers or young adults, in an attack on a block party celebrating another baseball victory. Justices found that Israel Arzate had been tortured into confessing to the crime.
Not surprisingly, local and state officials have rushed to assure residents that the crime had nothing to do with a renewed war between criminal cartels for the city’s still-thriving drug trade.
Last weekend’s massacre “is an issue totally distinct from the violence generated by organized crime,” Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte told reporters Tuesday. “What we had three years ago was a nightmare. Today we have problems but nothing like what we had then.”