At least 18 die in Mexico in drug-related slayings Members of three families executed in driveway


ENSENADA, Mexico -- Gunmen dressed in black and carrying assault rifles pulled three families from their homes early yesterday morning and shot at least 19 men, women and children against a wall in what police described as a drug-related slaying.

Last night, the authorities were still providing conflicting versions of events that occurred in a suburb of this city, 60 miles south of the California border.

The executions took place in the concrete driveway of a two-story stucco home on a hillside in Vista al Mar, a cluster of houses a mile from the Pacific Ocean. Soldiers from the Ensenada army garrison and Baja State judicial police officers refused to let reporters enter the walled compound yesterday afternoon, as detectives stood staring at a pool of blood in the driveway.

Killed or wounded in the attack were Fermin Castro, 38, his wife and 2-year-old son; his brother-in-law, Francisco Flores Altamirano, 30, Flores' 52-year-old mother, his sister, his wife and five children aged 4 through 13, and a family of seven neighbors, including a pregnant teen-ager and a 1-year-old child.

The killing came hours after Castro produced a rodeo for an independence day celebration near Ensenada, a relative said.

State officials said at least 17 victims died immediately. One of the women has since died, according to a bulletin issued by Baja California State authorities.

Mexico's attorney general, Jorge Madrazo, said in an interview that 19 people were killed in the attack by gunmen armed with AK-47 and 9 mm weapons.

Madrazo said the head of one of the three families, Castro, had been under federal investigation on suspicion of working with a top lieutenant of the Arellano Felix drug smuggling gang, which is based here in Baja California state.

The government news agency Notimex yesterday quoted the state attorney general, Marco Antonio de la Fuente Villarreal, as saying Castro was a cultivator of marijuana for the Arellano Felix group, which has been known as one of Mexico's most violent.

Castro's fate was not clear. The state government bulletin listed him as one of 19 dead in the attack. But the same bulletin said that he had been taken to an Ensenada hospital and had survived.

A relative of Castro, who asked not to be identified, said last night that Castro was alive.

Castro's relative said she received a call at 8 a.m. from her sister-in-law, who said, "There had been a shootout in my brother's house and that they had killed everybody, but they weren't sure if anybody had been left alive or who had done it or why," she recounted.

When asked if she was sure her relative had not been involved in illegal activities, the relative said, "If he did things we didn't know about, he must have had it all pretty hidden."

People familiar with the case said that one teen-age girl survived the attack by hiding in a closet.

Madrazo said that Castro was suspected of being an associate of Ismael Higuera Guerrero, who has been using Ensenada as a trafficking base.

One Mexican law enforcement official said yesterday that one hypothesis is that the executions are related to the slaying of a major trafficker, Rafael Munoz Talavera, last Friday in Ciudad Juarez. He formed an alliance with the Arellano Felix brothers last year during a violent attempt to take control of the cartel based in Juarez.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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