updated 12/28/2010 8:22:24 PM ET 2010-12-29T01:22:24

The last remaining police officer in the Mexican border town of Guadalupe has disappeared, and prosecutors in northern Chihuahua state said Tuesday they have started a search for her.

Twenty-eight-year-old officer Ericka Gandara held out despite the desertions and resignations that left her as the only officer in the Juarez Valley town, which was served by eight police a year ago.

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But Gandara hasn't been seen since Dec. 23. While some local media have reported Gandara was kidnapped, prosecutors' spokesman Arturo Sandoval said her relatives have not filed a kidnap complaint.

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Sandoval said the search was started Monday as a missing-person case.

The same day she disappeared, assailants also set fire to the home of a Guadalupe town councilwoman.

The Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels have been battling for control of the Juarez Valley, leading many residents to flee across the border to Texas or to other Mexican cities.

Most police officers, outgunned by the drug cartels, have resigned and officials say few people are willing to take their place.

The burden of law enforcement has increasingly fallen on a few women.

In the neighboring town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, a 20-year-old woman was sworn in as police chief in October. The man who previously held that office had been gunned down in July 2009 and the town had been unable to find a replacement for more than a year.

The drug gangs are trying to control the valley's single highway, a lucrative drug trafficking route along the Texas border.

In another northern state, Nuevo Leon, police found the severed head of a federal police officer Tuesday, said Jorge Domene, the state government's security spokesman. The officer's abandoned and bullet-ridden car was found on a highway the previous day. The motive for his killing is unknown.

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