Masked gunmen opened fire during an illegal cockfight at a Texas ranch near Mexico early Thursday, killing three people and wounding eight others in what authorities described as a bloody massacre.
The attack at the ranch near Edcouch, a town about 15 miles northeast of McAllen, happened shortly after midnight and sent spectators fleeing from the makeshift bleachers surrounding the fighting ring into the brush. Authorities were searching for the attackers and for clues as to their possible motives, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said.
Homer Jasso, the justice of the peace for that area of the county, said the scene was shocking in its gore.
"It was a massacre," Jasso said. "I haven't seen this kind of violence in the valley here on my watch. ... This is the first time in my life I've seen something this bad."
Authorities were withholding the names of the slaying victims until after they had notified the men's families, but they said two of them, ages 49 and 53, were brothers. The other man was 42 years old.
Jasso said one man lay dead under the corrugated metal and wood pavilion that housed the bleachers, ring and concession stand. The bodies of the other two men were just outside. Investigators didn't know how many people were at the fights, but Jasso estimated there were 200 to 300 discarded beer cans on the ground. The bodies of at least 20 dead fighting roosters were also strewn about, although Jasso said he didn't know if the birds died in the ring or the gunfire.
"It was awful, awful, awful," Jasso said.
Sheriff's dispatcher Gloria Felix said the wounded were taken to hospitals, but she did not know their conditions.
The property is in an area crisscrossed by dirt roads where packs of dogs chase infrequent cars and tractors rumble between fields. A narrow dirt drive leads back through a fence posted with a no trespassing sign and past a small, low-slung, white home. Further back, a ramshackle trailer blocks the line of sight. An open field that neighbors said packed with cars on fight nights sat between the trailer and the fight site.
Rosalinda Ramos, who lives two houses away from the ranch, said she woke to noise at about 2 a.m., saw the police vehicles and figured the site had finally been raided.
"I told my kids they might catch them like other places and close them down, but that's about it," Ramos said. "We never thought it was going to happen like that."
"This is bad, real bad. And like I said, it's too close to us. We're just innocent people."
Ramos said she had lived there for about 20 years and the people who lived in the white house on the cockfight property had moved in shortly after she did. Everyone in the area keeps to themselves she said so she only knew the couple by their first names. They were very poor and sometimes came to her home to ask for tortillas, a taco or a dollar, Ramos said. She had noticed heavy traffic on the dirt road in front of their home on fight nights.
Cockfights showcase battles between birds that have been fitted with sharp metal blades or curved spikes on their legs. Spectators gamble on which bird will be victorious in the sometimes hour-long fights that end when one or both of the birds are dead or maimed. The last state to ban cockfighting was Louisiana, in 2008.
Associated Press writer Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report.