JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – When the body of a murdered man wrapped in a blanket turned up in front of her children’s elementary school early Sunday, the only thing Yvonne G. could do was keep them away from the TV all day.
“This is worrisome because nothing like this had ever happened here,” said the Colonia Paseo del Alba resident. “My children don’t know about this. I don’t let them watch television. … The children don’t see the news.”
A mile away, Elsa, the owner of a grocery store in the Eco 2000 neighborhood faced a similar dilemma after someone left a Styrofoam cooler in a park with the severed head of a woman inside.
“One has to think twice about letting (the children) go out. If I let my daughter outside playing, I know I cannot trust anyone,” the store owner said.
Across the city, Juarez residents are dealing with the psychological trauma of urban warfare between a myriad of gangs trying to control street drug sales.
The violence claimed 113 lives in July and 30 during the first week of August. Many of the bodies show signs of torture. Some are missing fingers and others have been dismembered and placed inside trash bags tossed on the side of roads. The severed female head found in Eco 2000 was defaced, according to police – a red, white and green Mexican flag was painted over its eyelids.
“Regrettably, we continue to face these struggles between organized criminal gangs,” Juarez Mayor Cruz Perez Cuellar said on Monday. “This is a fight among gangs (but), obviously, it’s something to worry about.”
Perez said the violence is contained to “the criminal element” and spoke of how mass events like the June Juarez Fair, which attracted some 400,000 over a three-week span, went on without a hitch.
But residents interviewed throughout the day in neighborhoods where people have been murdered or severed body parts have been found in the past week say they’re living in fear.
“I don’t go outside after 10 (p.m.), or I go out with my wife but in our truck, never on foot because it’s dangerous,” said Bernardo, a factory worker who lives near the park where the woman’s head was found.
Jose, a man living near Alvarez Roma Elementary, said he fears the unbridled violence that gripped the city in the late 2000s and early 2010s is coming back.
“Yes, this brings fear that something will happen to you for no reason, or even if you go out to see what’s happening,” the merchant in his 30s said. “It is dangerous, and you feel fear for the things that happen near where you live. We always have lived with the violence, but now it is coming closer to us.”
Residents mistrust the police
Jose Trinidad Martinez says he has mixed feelings about requesting more police presence in his neighborhood. The air-conditioning technician said he doesn’t want criminals leaving body parts in the park, but the last time he saw police officers they roughed him up.
“I was on my way to work and they put me against (the wall) for no reason. They searched me, the searched my tools and kept questioning me,” he said. “I kept saying ‘I have nothing. I am an honest worker.’ In the end, they told me it was a routine check. But why?”
Elsa, the Eco 2000 store owner, said she, too, has had bad experiences with Juarez police. That’s why she refused to give them access to her security camera footage.
One of the municipal police’s “routine checks” resulted in a warrantless search of her business and the impoundment of her pickup. She recovered the vehicle days later.
“They wronged me. They searched my house for no reason, they came and stole my pickup. It was them, the police,” she said. “I recovered it … it had blood inside, it was dismantled, with no battery, no stereo, no tools. I had merchandise inside worth ($500). It was gone.”
The store owner said she and her family fear the criminals and the police.
“We know where we are. We live in a Third World country. We cannot trust the police. There is no public safety. I am responsible for my own safety,” the merchant said. “Yes, of course, this (the severed head in the cooler) shows we’re not safe. But I cannot tell the police, ‘Here, you can have my videos,’ because I don’t know what they are going to do with them. [….] I don’t know if they’re going to tell someone, ‘That woman has a video of you doing this.’”
Juarez police on Monday reported no arrests in either case. The Chihuahua state police late in the day say it had located the woman’s body in southeast Juarez, far from the cooler in the park.