In Ascencion, Chihuahua, a small farming and ranching town of about 10,000 on the road to Casas Grandes, townspeople beat to death two teenage boys participating in a kidnapping of a seventeen year old girl. Yesterday, Wednesday, townspeople pressured the mayor into firing the entire municipal police force, on the grounds that they had enabled a rash of kidnappings in recent weeks. Citizens assert they will patrol their city themselves.
The story began on Tuesday at about 9:00 a.m. when several men tried to kidnap the owner of a restaurant. Not finding him, they took a girl who works at the restaurant. Townspeople had been wary since last Thursday of a suspicious group of men riding in vehicles in the surrounding area, and had organized themselves to react quickly in case of an emergency. In the past few weeks, according to witnesses, about 20 persons in the area have been kidnapped, and on monday suspicious vehicles had come into town, causing townspeople to sound an alert.
The details of exactly what happened next are still fuzzy. Law enforcement officials (some versions say the army, other say the federal police) were contacted about the kidnapping and apparently they organized a search which discovered two vehicles, one containing the girl. After a chase, the vehicle carrying the girl apparently rolled over on the highway. The girl was rescued and at least two men were arrested and later sent to Juarez on suspicion of kidnapping. Some reports asserted townspeople prevented a police helicopter from landing near the site because they feared authorities would take them away only later to release them.
It is still unclear what happened with another vehicle containing some of the suspected kidnappers. The story in El Mexicano asserts the federal police had stopped this vehicle (Adriena Gomez Licon of the El Paso Times reported the vehicle had rolled into a ditch after a chase) to arrest the men, but were impeded from doing so by a mob that arrived at the scene. The mob began beating the men with their fists and with sticks and, according to this version, police finally wrested the men from the mob, but they died shortly thereafter. Andrés Rodríguez (alias R-1), either 16 or 17, and a seventeen-year old with the nickname "Mundo" were dead.
In addition to the dead suspected kidnappers, police arrested Obed Alberto Flores Arellano, "El Nenuco"; Jesús Manuel Ortega Rascón, "El Chumel," and Arturo Matancillas Lozoya, "El Cubano", who are suspected of being members of two kidnapping rings, "Los R" and "Los Caborca". The leader of the Caborca gang, Pedro Ávila Castillo, and two other gang members knows as "Los Paisas", managed to escape.
Yesterday the mayor of Ascencion, pressured by the wrath of citizens, fired all fourteen municipal police officers, and forced them to hand in their weapons and equipment, due to complaints the police had often protected kidnapping gangs. According to Norte Digital the previous chief of police, Salomón Baca Muñoz, resigned due to threats he had received, and citizens asked they mayor to contact his successor, mayor-elect Manuel Granados, to ask who he might appoint to fill the vacant positions of the police. The only police protection the city now has is afforded by army officers, who patrol in humvees.
The Lesson: When legally constituted authorities are unable to provide any degree of security against threats to public safety, it is only to be expected that citizens will take the law into their own hands. Evidence suggests this has happened not only in Ascencion, but also in many other parts of Chihuahua, where dead bodies are left to be discovered with signs nearby identifying them as extortionists or kidnappers. The case of Ascencion is likely to be repeated.