Fed Up, A Mexican Town Resorts To Mob Justice

Mexican policemen and soldiers in Ascension

Mexican policemen and soldiers guard the place where the bodies of two alleged kidnappers remain after being killed by an angry mob in Ascencion, Mexico, on Tuesday. Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico led residents of a small town in the northern state of Chihuahua to take justice into their own hands.

This week an angry mob of citizens pursued and allegedly killed two suspected kidnappers, storming a military base to get at the alleged culprits believed to have nabbed a teenage girl.

With police incapable of stopping the violent crime epidemic in Mexico amid the brutal drug war, it seems some locals in the town of Ascension have had enough.

Ascension is a farming community of some 15,000 people, about 100 miles south of the border with New Mexico. In the past two years, kidnapping and extortion have been rampant.

"Our problems with public security have spoiled our progress in this town," says Rafael Camarillo, the outgoing mayor.

The public fury happened Tuesday when an armed group allegedly kidnapped a 16-year-old girl from her family's seafood restaurant. The kidnappers escaped down a gravel road, and word of the missing girl spread quickly.

Soon, a group of about 200 residents began the chase. Three of the alleged kidnappers were captured by the Mexican military, who have a presence in the town.

Three others fled into a nearby cotton field, where one was later found dead. The other two were hunted down and beaten by the mob from Ascension.

"When they found them, it was a direct aggression," says Ignacio Rodriguez, a local kitchen-cabinet maker who was elected to head city council next month.

The girl was rescued unharmed by the residents.

"We are a small community," says Mari Cruz Salazar Soto, the girl's aunt.  "In the past year, we've averaged three kidnappings a week."

Rodriguez says he knows many people in town whose family members have been kidnapped, and many of them were among the angry crowd.

"In that moment there was a lot of resentment mixed with rage," he says.

Rodriguez says people in the mob recognized the two alleged kidnappers, 17-year-old boys who grew up in Ascension. "We don't know why they chose to get mixed up in crime," he says.

Federal police eventually took custody of the two young men and drove them to the town's small military base.

Residents say at least 1,000 people then caught up with them at the base and broke through the gates. The mob got ahold of the suspected kidnappers and beat them a second time.

The crowd then held them for seven hours, locked in a hot vehicle where they eventually died.

The next day, Mayor Camarillo fired all 14 of the town's police officers and requested assistance from state and federal police. The camera of a local television station captured residents as they stormed city hall on Wednesday morning and demanded the firings.

Jorge Leyva, a representative of the Chihuahua state police, said an investigation into the deaths of the two suspected kidnappers is under way.

Three other suspects were detained on charges of kidnapping and illegal weapon possession in the case.

Rodriguez, the future city councilman, says he's not proud of how his town responded to the kidnapping. Mob violence is not common in Chihuahua, one of the most violent states in the country.

Rodriguez says citizens in Ascension are forming a sort of neighborhood watch committee and are still deciding how the committee will operate.

"If the authorities can't protect us," he says, "we must protect ourselves."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.