Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor
In the month of February five young women were murdered on the border, and the reverberations of this continuing crime wave that has taken the lives of nearly 200 women in Jack-the-Ripper style serial killings as well as in incidents of domestic violence can be felt across the US Mexico border. Initial reactions, originating from all levels of government, the NGOs, the victims’ families, the maquilas, the media and the frightened public have been triggered by a community-wide horror. The number of victims continues to rise since the first murder in 1993, and the region has exploded with questions, suspicions, solutions and, most fervently, the demand for explanations. One way or the other, the resounding responses brim with a consumptive anger that seems to have lost its ability to keep still.
The following is a digested chronological list of the stories that headlined most papers in the region all month long. Two of the murders were those most troubling to the border region, where there appears to be no apparent motivation beyond a psycho-sexual rage that takes the lives of young women and leaves their bodies in the desert. Two of the murders are a result of domestically troubled couples, that may involve drug abuse, and unfortunately resulted in the deaths of pregnant wives. One of the murders appears to be a drug trafficking act of revenge or accident, and finally, one murder may never be solved as the only evidence is a collection of bones.
On January 31 the corpse of a young woman, approximately 20 years old, was found in an empty sports lot owned by Pemex in Cd. Juárez where approximately a half dozen other dead women have been found over the last two years. The victim has still not been identified although numerous families have viewed the body at the city morgue.
This victim was raped before she was strangled and left murdered in the desert. A semen sample was retrieved from her body and for the first time in the seven-year crime spree DNA testing will be done to ascertain possible suspects in the case.
Just days later, a 17-year-old woman, eight months pregnant, was murdered, and her stabbed body was found on February 9, partially buried in a patio under construction at her home in Cd. Juárez. It is believed that her boyfriend, also 17, murdered and buried her on February 2 before hanging himself the next day.
Jose Luis Durán Estrada, allegedly a drug addict, told his family before his suicide that his girlfriend, Paulina León, had left their home to visit her mother, however the family found that strange since she had not packed any of her clothes. Estrada’s brothers found her buried body a week later, and the cause of death was reported as shock due to loss of blood.
On Valentine’s Day, the day most people celebrate love, was unfortunately the opposite for too many families in the border region. Three murders occurred or were discovered on this day.
- Veronica Guillen, 18, nine months pregnant, of El Paso was strangled allegedly by her boyfriend Lorenzo Fabian Lechuga Navarette, 21, from Cd. Juárez. This was the first homicide in El Paso for 1999. Lechuga is missing and being sought by El Paso police.
- Elsa América Arreguín, 22, mother of a six-month-old and a two-year-old, and five months pregnant was shot to death at the door of her home in Cd. Juárez by two men who had asked for her husband, David Campa Lopez. América was a victim of regular beatings by her husband, according to her mother. Campa is allegedly a drug addict. There are suspicions that the crime may be some type of drug trafficking revenge or that the bullets were intended for Campa. Two suspects remain in custody.
- Human remains, believed to be a woman’s, were discovered by members of the Radio Civil Band Channel 12, in a location where a number of women’s remains have been discovered in the past. The bones, found in Lomas de Poleo, northwest of Cd. Juárez, appear to have been in the desert for at least a year, and they were scattered in an area with a 500 yard radius. This group regularly searches the city in an effort to discover missing women.
And just days later, the murder that most greatly stunned the area occurred. The body of Irma Angélica Rosales Lozano 13, was found in a vacant lot near the Luis Olague colonia on the southwest side of Cd. Juárez. She was raped, vaginally and rectally, and suffocated with a plastic grocery bag. She had been released from work Electrocomponentes de México, a nearby maquila, the same morning she was found dead. It is believed she had been dead for only a few hours when she was found which indicates that this crime happened in broad daylight. Semen was found in her body which has provided some leads in solving the crime.
Rosales, originally from Durango, had not even been in the area for a month. Her ailing parents had used their savings for the false identification she would need to get work and to send her to Cd. Juárez where she found a job in a maquila. She had been staying with her brother.
- A wave of security and government activity has resulted from this most recent series of murders. Although there is disagreement on what is the “right” thing to do, it can not be denied that authorities have taken notice, and are taking action.
- FBI to the Rescue
On March 8 three FBI agents are expected to arrive in Cd. Juárez to assist the local authorities in their investigation. The experts will be from the Behavioral Sciences Unit in Quantico, Virginia and will hopefully be able to create a psychological profile for the serial killers and other criminals that may be involved.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the FBI’s help,” said Vicky Caraveo of Mujeres por Juárez, a local advocacy group. She hopes these internationally known experts will “teach our law enforcement officials how to better manage the case investigations and the evidence.”
Governor Martínez Offers A Reward
Although received with mixed response, for the first time ever the government has offered a reward for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of a person responsible for a death and this reward is for the assasin of Irma Angelica Rosales Lozano. Governor Patricio Martínez, PRI, has offered fifty thousand pesos (approximately $5,000 US) and has expressed commitment to engaging the government in a more “energetic effort to rid the area of the flow of drugs and alcohol” which he fears are related to these crimes.
However, members of opposition parties have questioned Martínez’ offer. Alma Gómez Caballero, PRD, a state congress woman, believes the reward is “ridiculous,” wondering how a value could be placed on the life of a victim. Gómez thinks that the governor does more for the protection of banks and money exchange businesses than he does for the safety of women. “It’s as if they have to die to get his attention.” The party also questions the “infinite amount” that Martínez has put into his as of yet unsuccessful Zero Tolerance plan.
Alfredo Piñero, speaking for the PAN, said that “Martínez is getting a taste of his own medicine.” After promising to end violence in the region in one month, to this date there have been 90 unsolved murders since his inauguration last October.
Esther Chávez Cano, director of NGOs and Casa Amiga, the new crisis center, says that the governor does not have the political will to put an end to this horrible wave of violence. “No changes are happening . . . why haven’t we moved the authorities to fight with us, a dignified fight for the betterment of women?” Chávez claims that the governor was willing to fight for women only as a campaign promise, but now that he is in office, it is all talk.
The Police Authorities Take Action
The Assistant State Attorney General’s office has requested that surveillance operations be implemented in five specific areas of the city where female murder victims have been found. Assistant District Attorney Nahúm Nájera Castro has said that the spokesperson from the State office and Zuly Ponce Prieto, director of the Special Task Force To Investigate Crimes Against Women, have possible suspects, and he has ordered the recommended surveillance.
Ponce Prieto has been under fire because there are those who believe her Task Force is not doing enough, but she defends her office. “We can not publicize everything that occurs in the ongoing investigations. But I can assure you that the work is being done, and fortunately we can count on the support of the district attorney’s office and the professionalism of the people that are in this group. None of us are improvisers.”
The Department of Public Security has proposed to the State Attorney General that a preventative police force be created to assist the Special Task Force To Investigate Crimes Against Women. This group would not be investigative, only collaborative in the analysis of evidence. “There are municipal police with extensive experience that could help locate the suspects,” said Police Commissioner Javier Benavides González. They were waiting for the approval of the assistant district attorney to begin this project.
Over the last few weeks, a number of suspects have been held for questioning in some of the murders, however, no arrests have been made as of publication.
Cd. Juárez And Twin Plants Increase Security
Starting on February 22, the maquiladoras in Cd. Juárez began a collaboration with public security to increase the safety of the community, focusing on the industrial park areas. The objective was that all levels of law enforcement on the Mexican side of the border, and the twin plants’ security, become more visible.
Cooperating maquila industries hired additional security officers who will act as informants for the police. In addition to increasing law enforcement visibility in the city streets and around industrial areas, a pamphlet is being circulated with tips on how women can avoid dangerous situations. The advice includes not to talk to strangers, not to drive in unreliable vehicles, not to walk alone or in dark areas or change routes if alone, and to use hands and feet as well as screams in self defense. If possible, victims should contact aid immediately. Included in the advice is for women to “try not to look feminine.”
The Region Responds
In addition to the proposals, promises and pamphlets made by the authorities in the region, the community has also taken action, and an active network of concerned citizens is making their voice stronger and louder than ever before.
A website publicizing information surrounding the murders of women in Juárez was started last month by Hector Carreon, a former El Pasoan who now does business in California. The Sagrario Project, named for one of the first victims, can be found athttp://www.aztlan.net/ParaSagrario. This consortium consists of professionals, academics, business people, advocacy groups and other concerned citizens who share ideas and information. The site holds links to an array of literature written about the murders, as well as lists detailing the murders as gathered by Esther Chávez Cano.
Crisis Center Opened In Cd. Juárez
The long awaited Casa Amiga Crisis Center opened this month to a very receptive community. The center will provide medical and legal assistance to victims of rape as well as counseling and information.
The outpour of support for this new Center is indicative of just how badly the border region needed a facility to help the women and families traumatized by acts of sexual violence. In addition to the spree of murdered and raped women, advocacy groups believe there are an estimated 1,000 rapes each year in Cd. Juárez, and approximately 250 in El Paso, according to Vicky Caraveo.
The center has received support from Cd. Juárez, the City Council, the General Hospital, the universities and the Association of Maquiladoras (AMAC), as well as the community at large and numerous NGOs. Brian Barger, a former CNN reporter was instrumental in getting the Center started because he didn’t want to just report the story, but to take an active part in helping.
The District Attorney of Texas, Shane Phelps, visited the center and is providing training for the volunteers. “Sexual abuse doesn’t have borders. When authorities on both sides of the border make the effort to cooperate with each other, they will create an enormous reduction in sexual violations.”
The center is busy training volunteers and may need another month before it is running at full capacity. The Center’s rent will be paid by tax revenues.
For Esther Chávez Cano the Center is more than a facility for healing the victims and their families, the Center represents a demand for healing and for change at the social level.
Voices From The Community
Workers from Electrocomponentes de México, where Angelica Rosales Lozano had worked just hours before her death, responded to the news with fear and surprise. Many asked to remain anonymous for fear of being scolded by their superiors. One woman reported that no one at the plant had told them about Rosales. Another expressed concern for his wife and daughters. “Anytime I get a message that something came up at home, I start thinking, has one of them become a victim?”
On a final note, an incident early in the month seems to demonstrate how these crimes have wrecked havoc on the community at large. Young girls have found an unfortunately dramatic alibi for their involvement in activities prohibited by their parents.
Anabel Hernandez González, 14, who had spent the night with her boyfriend, and was afraid her parents would find out, made up an outrageous story about being kidnapped by a group of men who made numerous references to killing her along with the others they had killed. She reported this story to the police who responded with widespread searches and investigations. At last she revealed the truth, and she will be appear before the juvenile court for falsifying information.
Her’s makes the fifth account of young women crying wolf as a means to cover up their behavior. Obviously, the murders of women, is on everyone’s mind, in one way or another.
Sources: El Paso Times, El Diario, El Norte, Las Cruces Sun News, Sagrario Consortium