Gunmen who killed 15 people in this Mexican border city — many of them teenagers with no known criminal ties — were directed to the neighborhood by a resident who said members of a rival gang were planning a party, an official said Wednesday.
The mayor of Ciudad Juarez and other officials have said the victims had no criminal records and the gunmen may have been acting on mistaken information.
The massacre could mark the worst loss of innocent life yet in the gang battles that have turned the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, into one of the world's deadliest — and deepened a sense that no residents are safe, even inside their own homes.
More than 2,300 people were killed last year in the city of 1.3 million. Authorities say most were drug gang members, but bystanders have increasingly gotten caught in the crossfire.
Gang of hit men
Authorities say two suspects — one in custody and another who was killed in a shootout with soldiers Monday — belonged to gang of hit men tied to the Juarez cartel.
The detained suspect told investigators about the tip from the neighbor, state Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez told reporters. The suspect said the neighbor claimed hit men tied to the rival Sinaloa cartel were planning a party in Villas de Salvarcar, a working-class neighborhood of modest, cinderblock homes.
Gonzalez refused to comment on whether any of the victims may have been gang members, saying it was part of the investigation.
But Chihuahua state Gov. Jose Reyes visited distraught parents Wednesday and assured them he believed in their children's innocence.
"My two sons were students!" Maria Luz Davila shouted at the governor. "Their father and I could barely pay for their schooling, and they killed them both. Do you know what that's like? And to be told they were killed for being narcos!"
Reyes promised a thorough investigation.
"My presence in these homes is to discourage speculation that any of these kids had ties to criminal groups," he said. "I have information that these kids were clean."
Late Saturday, armed men in two trucks blocked off a dead-end street in the neighborhood and opened fire at three houses, ending their rampage at one home where young people had gathered for a party.
Death toll revised
Officials previously said 16 people died, but later revised the toll to 15 dead and 11 wounded.
Ten of those killed were teenagers. Police initially identified one as a 13-year-old girl, but according to an updated list Wednesday, the youngest victim was a 15-year-old boy. The only girl listed among the dead was 17.
Authorities identified the suspect killed in the shootout as Adrian Ramirez, and said he led the attack. According to past criminal records Ramirez had a home in El Paso, but it was unclear if he still lived there or what his nationality was.
The detained suspect allegedly acted as a guard during the attack.
President Felipe Calderon has deployed thousands of soldiers to Ciudad Juarez to stop vicious gangs battling for drug-dealing turf and lucrative trafficking routes north, but violent crime has only surged.