By Calvin Palmer
Mexican officials are investigating whether any of the four U.S. citizens found strangled, stabbed and beaten in Tijuana had links with the drug trade or were just innocent victims of a brutal crime.
One of the bodies of the two men and two women from the San Diego area tested positive for drugs.
The body of 19-year-old Brianna Hernandez Aguilera tested positive for cocaine, according to a toxicology report.
Her body was found in the early hours last Saturday along with those of Luis Games Chavez, 21; Oscar J. Garcia III, 23; and Carmen Ramos Chavez, 20.
Their bodies were covered with blankets inside a 1995 burgundy van with California license plates in a residential community known as Fraccionamiento Valle Dorado in eastern Tijuana.
The parents of 20-year-old victim Carmen Chavez yesterday described a vibrant Chula Vista High School graduate who worked at an amusement park and planned to become a hair stylist.
“She was a happy girl, with a desire to explore the world,” said her father, Rogelio Ramos Camano, of Chula Vista. “Young people are like that. They think nothing will happen. I was like that, too.”
Jose Manuel Yepiz, a spokesman for the Baja California state prosecutor’s office, said investigators were examining a threatening letter to one of the victims from a jail inmate in San Diego.
Prosecutors said they had ruled out the possibility that the killings were a case of drug gangs targeting tourists.
Victor Clark, a professor at San Diego State University’s Center for Latin American Studies, said criminal ties with any one of the Americans could have spelled disaster for the group.
“Maybe they broke the rules, which means death” when dealing with Mexico’s drug cartels, said Clark, a Tijuana resident and native. “And they dragged their friends down with them.”
Relatives said the victims were familiar with both sides of the border and navigating the area’s bilingual culture but may have taken their safety for granted.
Ramos said he had often told his daughter Tijuana was too dangerous and she assured him she was always careful.
But Ramos said he did not warn his daughter as she got ready ready to go out with her friend Brianna on May 7, even as he watched a Mexican TV news program about killings in Tijuana.
“I think God put that out there so I would do something, but I didn’t dare,” he said, recalling how they were dressed up and ready to go.
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]