Video: Mexican drug cartels recruit US kids

  1. Transcript of: Mexican drug cartels recruit US kids

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We have an NBC News exclusive tonight about a frightening trend in the drug war along the border between the US and Mexico . In the state of Texas , state officials are warning parents that Mexican drug cartels are now recruiting schoolchildren in the US to do their work as drug runners. NBC 's Mark Potter has been covering the war next door for us, and tonight he has the story of a 12-year-old boy caught up in all of it.

    MARK POTTER reporting: After a high-speed chase by police, a pickup truck crashed in Alamo , Texas , spilling nearly a half ton of Mexican marijuana bales, this video obtained exclusively by Telemundo . Officers say when they apprehended the lone driver of the truck, they discovered he was a mere 12-year-old boy.

    Mr. JOE RODRIGUEZ (Texas Department of Public Safety): It's shocking because it's not what we expect a 12-year-old to be doing.

    POTTER: For years, drug traffickers lured thousands of kids in Mexico to do their dirty work, body carrying drug loads and spying on police. This boy from San Diego says he was kidnapped in Mexico and forced to execute four people. When asked how to do it he said...

    Unidentified Boy:

    POTTER: ...'I decapitated them.' Now police say, with more drugs than ever coming into the US from Mexico , traffickers are recruiting kids on the American side of the border.

    Mr. WOODY LEE (United States Border Patrol): They can be just lured with the promise of drive this vehicle from point A to point B , you know, for a couple hundred dollars of cash, which seems a lot for a young person.

    POTTER: In Maverick County , Texas , where 25 juveniles were recently arrested on trafficking charges, Sheriff Tomas Herrera says the problem is getting worse.

    Sheriff TOMAS HERRERA: Now they're recruiting local kids from the high school , even the elementary.

    POTTER: Here along the Rio Grande , which separates Texas from Mexico , the numbers tell the scope of the problem. Fewer than 10 percent of the population live along the border, yet nearly 20 percent of juvenile felony drug cases are filed here. Texas police say the cartels consider kids expendable.

    Mr. RODRIGUEZ: The cartels really don't care about our children. They'll use them until they're no -- they can't use them anymore.

    Unidentified Police Officer: They'll go after you, they'll kidnap you.

    POTTER: US Border Patrol agents are going into classrooms, warning students against joining the cartels, showing graphic films about drug trade violence.

    POTTER: It's an uphill battle against cartel recruiters who have now set their sights on American kids. Mark Potter , NBC News, Mission, Texas .

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updated 10/22/2011 6:06:51 PM ET 2011-10-22T22:06:51

Prosecutors said Saturday that a 15-year-old boy has confessed to running a drug trafficking gang on the Mexican resort island of Isla Mujeres and murdering two women who reportedly worked as drug dealers.

It was the second time in less than a year that an extremely young male has been detained as a purported drug gang killer in Mexico. Last November, soldiers arrested a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who confessed to killing four people whose beheaded bodies were found hanging from a bridge.

Mexican officials say the involvement of youths in such crimes reflects the difficulty drug cartels are having in recruiting adults, but it also raise fears that Mexico's drug violence may have accustomed young people to extreme levels of violence.

The Isla Mujeres cases involve a youth who prosecutors in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo identified only by his nickname, "El Gallito" or "The Little Rooster".

Heavily tattooed, El Gallito appears more mature than his age, prosecutors said.

State Attorney General Gaspar Garcia Torres said the boy claimed to have been in charge of the lucrative Isla Mujeres drug market for a local gang known as "Los Pelones," equivalent to the Bald or Shaved Heads. The gang is reputedly fighting the Zetas cartel for control of the area around the coastal resort of Cancun.

A spokesman for the prosecutors office said the boy told investigators that he and two older associates slashed the throats of the two women at a hotel on Isla Mujeres. Their women's bodies were found before dawn Thursday, and El Gallito was detained Friday.

"He confessed to having full participation in carrying out these deeds, and from the start he claimed to have been in charge of drug sales in the area, in this case for the Pelones, and that his duties were to receive the drugs," said the spokesman, who was not allowed to be quoted by name.

The women were purportedly killed after they betrayed the Pelones gang by selling drugs they obtained from other sources.

The boy was turned over to a youthful offender facility to face homicide charges. Because of his age, he cannot be identified or tried as an adult. In most parts of Mexico, youths are tried and sentenced in juvenile courts, but cannot be held after they turn 18.

Last year's case involved a 14-year-old U.S. citizen, who was identified by his family as Edgar Jimenez Lugo, known as "El Ponchis." He was sentenced in July to three years in prison for homicide, kidnapping and drug and weapons possession. It was the maximum sentenced allowed for a minor.

Authorities say the teenager confessed to working for the South Pacific cartel, which is allegedly led by Hector Beltran Leyva.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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