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Unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico have forced many innocent civilians into a quiet, fearful existence. But one small town in the northern state of Chihuahua is fighting back. This week, an angry mob of citizens pursued, beat and captured two suspected kidnappers.

Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: The town of Ascension has had enough.

A local television station captured residents as they stormed city hall Wednesday morning and demanded that the mayor fire all 14 municipal police officers.

Ascension is a farming town of about 15 to 20,000 people south of the New Mexico border. In the last two years, kidnapping and extortion have been rampant.

Rafael Camarillo is the outgoing mayor.

Mr. RAFAEL CAMARILLO: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Our problems with public security, he said, have spoiled progress in this town. At the public's demand, Camarillo fired his police officers and requested assistance from state and federal authorities. The Mexican army already has a presence in town.

Ms. MARI CRUZ SALAZAR SOTO: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: The event that set off public fury happened two days ago, when armed men allegedly kidnapped a 16-year-old girl from her family's seafood restaurant. Mari Cruz Salazar Soto is the girl's aunt.

Ms. SOTO: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: We are a small community, she said. In the past year, we've averaged three kidnappings a week.

Ignacio Rodriguez, a local kitchen cabinet maker, drives two reporters down the gravel road that was the kidnappers' escape route. Word of the missing girl spread quickly and soon a group of 200 citizens began the chase. Three of the suspected kidnappers were captured by the Mexican military. Three others fled into a nearby cotton field where one was later found dead. The other two were hunted down and beaten by the residents of Ascension.

Mr. IGNACIO RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: When they found them, Rodriguez said, it was a direct aggression. Rodriguez was elected to head city council next month and knows many of the people in town whose family members have been kidnapped. He said he saw many of their faces among the angry mob.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: In that moment, he said, there was a lot of resentment mixed with rage. He said the people recognized the young men. They grew up with our kids, he said. We don't know why they chose to get mixed up in crime.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Federal police eventually took custody of the two young men and drove them to the town's small military base. Residents say at least a thousand people caught up with them there and broke through the gates. The mob got a hold of the suspected kidnappers and beat them a second time. Then, the mob held them for seven hours locked in a hot vehicle where they eventually died.

Mr. JORGE LEYVA: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Jorge Leyva is a representative of the Chihuahua state police. He said there is an investigation into the deaths of the two suspected kidnappers. Three other suspects are detained on charges of kidnapping and illegal weapon possession. The 16-year-old girl was rescued unharmed by the residents of Ascension.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Rodriguez, the future councilman, says he's not proud of how his town responded to the kidnapping. Mob violence does occur in Mexico but it's not common in Chihuahua, currently one of the most violent states in the country.

Rodriguez says citizens in Ascension are forming a sort of neighborhood watch committee. They're still in the process of deciding exactly what they'll do. But Rodriguez says if authorities can't protect us, we must protect ourselves.

For NPR news, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe.

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