When the police arrived at the middle-class home in Tizayuca, a small town in the state of Hidalgo, the place had already been deserted. In the backyard, they found 7 women and 4 men, all lying on the pavement, slashed to death. Eleven bodies in total. In the bushes nearby, they found four children, in severe trauma and unable to speak.
The cops told the reporters gathered outside that it was a settling of scores between criminals, and that most of the victims had served time for felonies. The party host, a man named Ruben, had only recently left Barrientos prison, where he was sent for kidnapping, theft and larceny.
The kids later testified that as the killers sliced off parts of each victim’s body – their mothers and fathers – they didn’t move a bone, just listened intently from their hiding spot.
Since the beginning of 2017, killings in Mexico have risen dramatically. In May alone, 2,186 homicides were recorded – nearly 500 per week.
These days, this type of event is fairly common – a settling of scores involving an entire family. What’s puzzling is why the killers bothered to leave four kids alive in the bushes.
In a few ways, the surge in violence reminds me of my childhood in the outer boroughs of NY in the 1970s and 80s, when swathes of Brooklyn, Bronx and even Manhattan were still no-go zones. During that time, more than a dozen cops were still being slaughtered each year.
In Little Italy, Staten Island and Sheepshead Bay, not a week went by without news of a table-full of made-men gunned down while dining on heaping plates of steamed mussels and linguine. On occasion, even a dirty cop was involved.
But police killings were rare back then, not in small part due to the NYPD’s wrath on whoever was responsible. In those days, hit men tried not to involve outsiders.
There were outlier cases, of course, especially among the Asian gangs, like when a dozen teenagers born-and-raised on the streets of war-era Saigon burst into a Chinese restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens and sprayed the dining room with AK-47s.
I used to eat noodles at that place. I still remember the front pages: 7 diners killed instantly, 12 others seriously wounded. The joint never opened again.
Events like that rarely happened, despite all the violence between the multi-ethnic mafias and criminal tribes. In those days, I was more concerned about stumbling into the cross hairs of some crazy Rambo type than getting picked off by the mob.
In Mexico, things are a lot different.
What these killers did yesterday was strictly in the line of duty. For among Mexican mafiosi, there are no more taboos. No more respect for women, kids or bystanders. That’s pretty much gone.
I don’t know how much each hitman got paid for slashing those party-going mothers and fathers to death in front of their kids. Hopefully it was enough to pay for a long cruise in Acapulco, where they can slurp icy beers and peer out at the shore. Hopefully they won’t get too inebriated to take notice of the families gathered by the water, or think – if only in passing – about the kids they left alone in the world.
That may or may not help. But how many others would clamor to fill their shoes? After all, these guys didn’t make the rules. They perform in-demand services, occupy a niche in the economic food chain.
As the cops said, everybody involved in this tit-for-tat knew what to expect. That’s what they meant when they told everyone gathered outside that the victims involved were all criminals.
That’s how the game is played. Ruben and all the others knew that.