LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

The numbers are staggering. More than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico since the country's drug war began four years ago. Many of the dead were gang members or people tied, in some way, to the cartels. Police and soldiers were also among the casualties, and random bystanders.

Over the next couple of days, reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe brings us some of their stories. Today, we hear about two very different young people who both became victims of the violence.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: At a community center high in the rough western hills of Juarez, Lupe sits on a worn loveseat inside a small counseling room. Outside, a harsh wind splats desert sand against the window pane. Out of safety concerns, she doesn't want to be identified by her last name.

Lupe agreed to meet here because she doesn't feel safe talking in her neighborhood, where last summer, her 18-year-old son was killed.

LUPE: (Through Translator) Life here is very difficult. When I married I had to get a job so that I could help my husband.

URIBE: Lupe works at one of hundreds of maquiladoras, or factories, in Juarez. On a salary of about $10 a day, workers like her manufacture parts for cars, cell phones, and flat screen TVs that later end up on store shelves in the United States.

The workers live in poor squatter communities that are breeding grounds for criminals.

LUPE: (Through Translator) There's a family of drug traffickers who live nearby. They recruit people from around the neighborhood. They watch and wait for just the right moment. Then they attack.

URIBE: In her son's case, the right moment came when Lupe's husband became sick and died. Lupe worked overtime to make ends meet and couldn't spend much time with her kids.

Her son, Oscar, soon dropped out of school and began hanging out with a family of drug traffickers. They had children his age. They drove nice cars and lived in a big house. Oscar never even owned a decent pair of tennis shoes.

LUPE: (Through Translator) That was beginning of the biggest tragedy of my life.

URIBE: Lupe's son soon began working for the drug traffickers. One day, he saw two fellow traffickers murdered by rival gangsters. Because he was a witness, that meant the end for him, too.

Lupe says the gangsters ran over him with a four-wheel drive truck. When she went to identify the body at the funeral home, she could barely recognize her son.

LUPE: (Through Translator) And that's the image that I carry with me everywhere; when I eat, when I sleep, at every moment - my son's face torn to shreds.

URIBE: Lupe's son might have had a different future. As a boy, he got good grades and he was a promising saxophone player. But Lupe said, once he was sucked into the drug gang, he couldn't get out.

Less than a mile from the Mexican border, Tanya Lozoya lived a far different life.

Ms. VERONICA LOZOYA: This is her room. All her trophies are like school trophies.

URIBE: Her parents emigrated from Juarez to the United States, hoping to give their children better opportunities. Tanya was a 15-year-old freshman at an affluent high school in El Paso, Texas.

Ms. LOZOYA: She was very intelligent. She was a bright girl, very generous, very kind.

URIBE: Veronica Lozoya is Tanya's mom. Her daughter was a straight-A student. She was in student council, Honor Society and softball. She dreamed of going to Harvard to study law.

Ms. LOZOYA: The teachers would always tell me that they wish there could be more students like her. That they wished that she could be cloned, because she was very special.

URIBE: No one expected Tanya's life would end so abruptly.

Like so many families who live on the border, the Lozoyas have relatives on both sides. On May 16th last year, the family attended a baptism party at a home in Juarez. They sat in the living room with relatives, when all of a sudden two strangers broke into the back of the house.

They were gangsters. One chased the other into the living room and out the front door, while shooting his gun. Everyone in the room dropped to the floor.

Ms. LOZOYA: When I got up, I turned around and she was on the floor, just laying. She wouldnt move and I started screaming, you know, for help.

URIBE: A stray bullet punctured Tanya's neck. She died instantly.

Ms. LOZOYA: I wish it was a nightmare, because you wake up in a nightmare and it's gone. But it's not a nightmare. It's a reality. It's a cruel reality that you have to live, day by day, knowing that your daughter is not here no more.

URIBE: Inside the modest Lozoya home, Tanya's picture is everywhere. Her father tattooed her image on his bicep. And in their backyard, is a mural of Tanya in her softball uniform, smiling.

Her death is one of more than 200 Americans killed in Mexico since 2007. Veronica Lozoya calls Tanya, her only daughter, her best friend. Lozoya says it's wrong that innocents like her daughter die.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso.

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