CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — A second massacre in as many months has shaken the border city of Ciudad Juarez, once considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, but whose falling crime rate has been held up recently as a model for all of Mexico.
Officials in the northern city grappled with the brutal killing of eight related people as authorities in western Mexico said Monday they had uncovered more remains from clandestine graves linked to drug violence. In the same region, vigilantes who have been fighting one of the cartels seized a town in a weekend clash that killed two people.
In Ciudad Juarez, the eight members of an extended family found stabbed to death early Sunday were not victims of organized crime and may have been killed by someone they knew, Chihuahua officials said. There was no forced entry into the house where they were found, and the knife used in the stabbing was possibly from the kitchen, state Prosecutor Enrique Villareal said at a news conference.
The attack included the binding and killing of three young children and was an assault on the entire community, said Enrique Serrano, mayor of the border city across from El Paso, Texas. "We deeply reject this act and hope to have results soon," he said.
All the victims had tape over their mouths and their hands were tied, including two 4-year-olds and a 6-year-old. A 3-month-old baby was spared. The oldest victim was a 60-year-old woman, one of three adult women and two adults males killed.
State authorities are offering 300,000 pesos ($23,000) for information about the assailants.
Warring drug cartels once made Ciudad Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world, but drug-related killings had declined in recent years. According to federal statistics, homicides spiked in the city in 2010 at 3,900 and have fallen steadily to 1,134 in the first nine months of this year. The federal government now combines all killings into one statistic and no longer says how many are related to drug trafficking.
The city has one of the busiest crossings into the U.S. and is considered a desirable route for drug traffickers. Mexican federal officials have said they turned around Ciudad Juarez with better security and millions invested in social programs. Others say violence has dropped because one of two warring cartels won the battle over the routes.
Despite the recent calm, the border area was unsettled in September when two gunmen burst into a home east of the city and killed 10 people celebrating a baseball victory — a 7-year-old girl, her mother, three teenage boys and five adult men. The bodies were found scattered over a radius of about 12 yards (meters) suggesting some had tried to flee when they were gunned down. A trophy from the baseball game was found at the home.
It was one of the biggest massacres in the area since the 2010 killing of 15 people at a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez's working-class neighborhood of Villas de Salvarcar. That massacre was believed to have been a case of mistaken identity, in which a drug gang attacked the party because it thought members of a rival gang were there.
Seven of the dead in Sunday's attack were members of the Jehovah's Witness, according to the religious group's public information office in Mexico City.
Villareal said every indication is that they were honest, hard-working people and that the slaughter was an isolated attack.
Officials said they were questioning two people. One motive could have been robbery, as one of the victims had a car sales business and was known to receive large amounts of money, Villareal said.
Meanwhile, the number of bodies found in eight clandestine graves in western Mexico rose to 20 on Monday, according to a federal prosecutors official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press.
Nearly two dozen police officers who confessed to working with a drug cartel led agents to the series of mass graves last week near the border between Jalisco and Michoacan states. The official said agents were still excavating.
Neither the identities of the victims nor the motive for the killings have been released, but the area is the site of a turf war between the Knights Templar and the New Generation cartels. The graves were in La Barca, in a remote area by Lake Chapala, which is popular among tourists and American retirees.
The grisly discovery comes as the government scrambles to curb violence in Michoacan, where locals have formed self-defense groups to fight the pseudo-religious Knights Templar.
On Saturday, vigilantes took over another town in Michoacan amid confrontations that killed two people and wounded three.
Associated Press writer Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City contributed to this report.