National Geographic : 2017 Jul
THE MASSACRE As sundown approached on Friday, March 18, 2011, gunmen from the Zetas cartel began pour- ing into Allende. Guadalupe García, retired government work- er: We were eating at Los Compadres, and two guys came in. We could tell they weren’t from here. They looked different. They were kids—18 to 20 years old. They ordered 50 hamburgers to go. That’s when we figured something was going on, and we decided we’d better get home. Martín Márquez, hot dog vendor: Things be- gan happening in the evening. Armed men began arriving. They were going house to house, look- ing for the people who had done them wrong. At 11 at night there was no traffic on the streets. There was no movement of any kind. Etelvina Rodríguez, middle school teacher and wife of victim Everardo Elizondo: My husband, Everardo, usually came home between 7 and 7:30 at night. I was waiting for him. Time passed—7, 7:30, 8, 9. I began calling him. The phone was not in service. I thought maybe he was at his mother’s house and his battery had died. I called his mother. She told me that she hadn’t seen him and that maybe he was out with friends. But that didn’t make sense to me. He would have called. So I went out looking for him. The atmosphere felt tense. It was nine at night, which was not very late, not on a Friday. The town was completely deserted. Lawlessness was not unfamiliar to people in Allende. Because of its proximity to the U.S. bor- der—residents do their weekend shopping at the mall in Eagle Pass, Texas—there had long been families engaged in smuggling who lived quietly in their communities. But by 2007 the Zetas had moved in, and the region became a haven for all kinds of criminality. Using money and threats, the group took control of entire agencies—local police departments, mayors’ offices, even the cus- toms office close to the border. They embedded themselves in society, marrying into local families or going into business with them. Some locals joined the cartel’s ranks, including sev- eral members of a prominent clan of ranchers and coal miners, the Garzas. Now those connections were proving deadly. Among those the Zetas suspected of being a snitch— wrongly, it turns out—was José Luis Garza, Jr., a relatively low-level cartel operative. When the truckloads of gunmen descended on Allende, one of their first destinations was a ranch owned by Garza’s father, Luis, a few miles outside of town on a poorly lit two-lane highway. After nightfall, flames began rising from one of the ranch’s large cinder-block storage sheds, where the cartel burned bodies of the dead. Sarah Angelita Lira, pharmacist and wife of victim Rodolfo Garza, Jr.: My husband, Ro- dolfo, arrived. He told me, “My head is killing me. I’m going to take a shower.” He was com- pletely covered in soot because he was opening a new coal mine. After a while his phone start- ed ringing. I thought he had gone to lie down, but he came out of the bedroom, fully dressed, andhelookedmeintheeyeinawayIhadnever seen before. “Don’t leave the house,” he told me. “ There’s something going on. I don’t know what it is. But don’t leave the house. I’ll be back.” After a while, Rodolfo called me. “Get out of the house,” he said. He told me to ask my cousin to take our daughter, Sofía, and me to my moth- er’s house. His uncle Luis’s ranch was on fire. And there were a lot of armed men standing outside the gate. His sister wasn’t answering her phone. His father wasn’t answering either. He sent one of his work- ers, Pilo, to the gate to see what was going on. Pilo had been in the military. The gunmen opened the gate. Pilo went in. But he never came out. Rodolfo was inconsolable. He couldn’t find his parents. He couldn’t find his sister. And now his best worker was gone. He told me he was going to try to sneak onto the ranch through the back. A few minutes later, he called again. He told me to get out of Allende. “Tell your cousin to take you to Eagle Pass. Don’t pack. Just go.” THE ORAL HISTORIES HAVE BEEN EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.