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The Mexican border city of Juarez has become the center of drug violence. This week, we're hearing the stories of some of those victims. Many of the people killed were involved in criminal gangs or law enforcement, but others were not.
Monica Ortiz Uribe reports on two people caught in the crossfire.
MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: Jaime Aragon met his wife, Maria Luisa, at a restaurant he used to own. She walked in with wavy, jet black hair, pretty eyes and a radiant smile. Aragon was smitten. They shared a passion for cooking and loved Mexican country star, Vicente Fernandez. A few months after they met, the couple married on Valentines Day.
Mr. JAIME ARAGON: She had a unique smile that brought warmth to everybody, made everyone feel happy, welcome.
URIBE: Maria Luisa also was very charitable, and once a month she would visit a struggling family in a poor barrio in Juarez.
Mr. ARAGON: My wife would get together clothes for them, medicines, food, and we would take them a little bit of money.
URIBE: Last year on December 9th, Maria Luisa was picking up medical supplies for that family. She and her pastor drove to a local hospital.
Mr. ARAGON: And so she left him at the door. And when she went to park, a car drove up and opened fire and they killed her.
URIBE: It was a typical drive-by shooting, the kind that happen nearly every day in Juarez. But in this case, Maria Luisa wasn't the intended target.
Mr. ARAGON: My wife was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a mistaken identity. Because at 2:25 in the afternoon, Channel 44 News, they tell me that they had found another truck, the same year, same model, same color and they had killed a man and a woman.
URIBE: In the other car police identified a woman known as La Jefa, or the boss. They also found weapons stashed in the back of the car. To date, police have not made arrests in either of the killings.
Mr. ARAGON: We were not doing anything wrong. We were not involved with the wrong people. My wife was just an innocent bystander, you know. And what happens in Juarez affects all of us.
URIBE: Like thousands of Juarez families, Aragon shuttered his home there and brought his children to live permanently in El Paso, where he works for a local community college. Their lives are forever changed.
Mr. ARAGON: It's hard. It's very hard because, you know, I had the plans and the hope of my wife coming back to the U.S., of us buying a home here and growing old together.
URIBE: Mistaken identity is one way innocent people are caught in the crossfire. Many others are killed simply doing their job - doctors, lawyers, police and journalists. Among them, an anesthesiologist named Jose Ortiz Collazo, killed July 16th. His brother Miguel tells the story.
Mr. MIGUEL COLLAZO: (Through Translator) He was in his office a block away when he heard gunshots. He and his son went out to see what happened. When he saw someone was injured, he sent his son back to his office to get his First Aide kit.
URIBE: Moments later a car bomb exploded, detonated remotely by a cell phone. Ortiz was in the center of impact. Photos of the aftermath show him sitting on the pavement hunched over and surrounded by twisted metal and glass. His white lab coat is tattered and bloody. Ortiz only lived a few hours afterward.
When his brother Miguel heard the news, he rushed from his home in El Paso to the hospital in Juarez.
Mr. COLLAZO: (Through Translator) It's so difficult to describe. Half of his face was torn off by the blast. He was missing an eye. He lost two or three fingers. His arms were broken, his legs were fractured and he was losing a lot of blood.
URIBE: Miguel's last words to his brother were that he would take of his son, Kevin, the one who survived the explosion. Ortiz has three other children, including a nine-year-old daughter.
While Ortiz was a causality of an attack believed to be aimed at federal police, violence has struck doctors in Juarez especially hard. This year, a pediatrician and an orthopedic surgeon were kidnapped and murdered. Many others are threatened and extorted.
Gunmen even follow survivors of their attacks into hospitals with the intent of finishing them off. Many doctors have fled Juarez, but thousands more remain.
Mr. COLLAZO: (Spanish language spoken)
URIBE: Miguel says his brother died unjustly. Even so, he says he died doing his duty helping others. Like many other families in Juarez and across Mexico, Miguel braces himself for yet another year in such a violent reality.
We hope it gets better, he says. But of course, that's what many people hoped for last year.
For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso.
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