Juárez killings surge, 9 dead as violence spreads to Palomas

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 05/10/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

A gunbattle on the Avenida Juárez tourist strip left two men dead and wounded five others, including three bicycle police officers, as part of a resurgence of violence in Juárez.
The violence, possibly linked to a war between drug cartels and government forces across Mexico, continued Friday with a double homicide in the town of Palomas and an attempt on the life of a Juárez police commander and his bodyguards. In Juárez, there were five other separate homicides as of 8 p.m. Friday.

The Avenida Juárez incident occurred about 10 p.m. Thursday about two blocks from the foot of the Paso del Norte Bridge near shops, bars and nightclubs catering to tourists and partiers from the United States.

After the shooting, a man with a gunshot wound to the torso stumbled to get medical help on the U.S. side of the international bridge.

"We had a motorist advise us that there appeared to be a man who had been shot and collapsed about 10 yards inside the United States up toward the top of the bridge," said Roger Maier, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The bridge was temporarily closed. An ambulance took the wounded man to Thomason Hospital.

Chihuahua state police identified the men killed on Avenida Juárez as German Padilla Zavala, 27, and Oscar Luis Zapien Carbajal, 47.

Juárez news media reported that the men might have been among the parking attendants and cigarette vendors working in the area and were killed during a kidnapping attempt of another person that went wrong.

Police officials said the bicycle officers were responding to a fight and the sound of gunshots when they came under fire. Pablo Lozoya, Felipe Martinez Peralta and Mercedes Medina Ortega were in stable condition Friday morning at a Juárez hospital.

Police also said a 78-year-old man, who was sitting with his family in the back seat of a car, was grazed by several shots that struck the vehicle. Investigators found more than 35 bullets casings at the scene.

The Avenida Juarez shooting was the second in a Juárez tourist section in less than a day. Early Thursday, four El Pasoans were wounded outside the Arriba Chihuahua nightclub in the ProNaF zone near the Bridge of the Americas.

"The El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau understands the recent events in neighboring Juárez are unsettling for some. However, it is important to note that historically there has been virtually no crime committed against tourists to El Paso or the city of Juárez," bureau spokesman Pifas Silva said in a statement.

"It is, however, best if visitors to international cities follow a few specific guidelines: travel during daylight hours, travel with groups of two or more, frequent popular tourism attractions only, respect the laws of other countries and always carry proper identification at all times," Silva said.

Friday morning, Juárez police commander Jose Roberto Ortiz Enriquez, who heads the Barbicora station, and two bodyguards survived an attack while riding in a patrol truck that was intercepted by shooters in a pickup, causing the bullet-riddled police vehicle to crash into a traffic-light pole, police officials said. The three were hospitalized in stable condition.

Friday afternoon, a father and son were killed in a hail of 67 bullets along a street in Palomas, across the border from Columbus, N.M., Chihuahua state police said.

Arnoldo Carreon Renteria, 57, and his son Damian Arnoldo Carreon, 25, were while getting into their pickup, with New Mexico plates, when they were shot.

Luna County Sheriff Raymond Cobos said that the men were believed to be Palomas residents and that his deputies were on alert to make sure violence did not spill over into the U.S.

Mob-style street ambushes and executions had initially declined in the region with the arrival in March of more than 2,000 Mexican army soldiers and federal police officers to Juárez and other communities in Chihuahua.

Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz on Friday asked that federal and military forces do more and change strategies to stop the bloodshed, which is linked to a war across Mexico between government forces and drug-trafficking groups.

"To us, it appears evident that organized crime has learned the routine of the army. Its regular patrol routes, the hours it patrols and has designed strategies to evade" military operations, Reyes Ferriz said in a statement.

Since the start of the year, there have been more than 250 murders in Juárez, including the slayings of about 15 law enforcement officers.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com; 546-6102.