Mexico deported a teenage hitman to the United States on Tuesday after he spent nearly three years in a juvenile detention center for crimes including murder, kidnapping and trafficking cocaine in a case that shocked even a nation so used to violence.
U.S.-born Edgar Jimenez, known as "El Ponchis," worked for the South Pacific drug cartel in Morelos state outside Mexico City. He was captured in late 2010 when he tried to travel to the United States. He was just 14.
"His plane has left for the United States," a Mexican security official said, asking not to be identified in line with policy. He said Jimenez, now 17, had been released a few days early for good behavior, and was bound for San Antonio, Texas.
The official said he was expected to be taken to a rehabilitation center in Texas.
When he was captured, he admitted on camera to beheading victims and said he had been drugged and forced to kill. A video posted on YouTube shows him hacking a victim's head off with a machete.
Mexico has suffered years of drug-related violence, with about 1,000 people a month dying in gangland killings. About 80,000 people have died since 2007 in cartel violence.
Grisly violence is a trademark of gangs, which dangle the corpses of slain, often mutilated enemies from bridges and have even rolled a severed head onto a packed dance floor as a warning.
Officials have recovered around 50 corpses this month from what one official called a "minefield" of mass graves in western Mexico, where drug cartels are battling each other.
But while violence is commonplace, Jimenez' young age and his brutal crimes shocked Mexico.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has sought to shift the focus away from the drug violence that dominated his predecessor's term and onto economic reforms he is seeking to push through Congress.
Pena Nieto vowed to focus on reducing violent crime and extortion rather than going head to head with drug bosses. However, the steady stream of killings has continued unabated.