Report Details Growing Violence In Tijuana, Baja

A recent Saturday night attack in downtown Tijuana left 13 drug traffickers dead and eight more wounded. It is part of the growing criminal activity in Tijuana and Baja California, targeting not just drug dealers but innocent U.S. tourists.

Take the case of Pat Weber of Carlsbad and his girlfriend, Lori. They went to Baja to surf. Instead, two armed men in paramilitary uniforms fired into their motor home, robbed the couple and raped Lori.

"I am just thinking, 'What if I don't react? Maybe they will be turned off and will just go,'" said Lori. But it didn't happen and they raped her.

Debra Hall of El Cajon, her husband, Chris, and their two children were pulled over by ten armed men while driving home on the Tijuana toll road.

"They said, 'Put your heads down, we're going to kill you. Put your heads down,'" said Debra.

The men were in uniform, carried 9 mm guns and forced the family into the hills.

"We knew this was really bad, and we said, 'Please leave our kids here, they're just kids,'" said Debra.

Instead, Debra said the men roughed up their 16-year-old son.

"They took him out and shoved him hard into a ditch," said Debra.

The group robbed the family of money, jewelry and their truck -- all the while demanding to know what they did for a living.

"Maybe they thought they were going to get someone they could ransom," said Debra.

There is the growing danger, and 10News has learned that 45 to 50 kidnapping rings are working the Tijuana to Ensenada corridor, earning $6 million a month in ransoms.

What is worse is 13 members of these so-called kidnapping cartels are known to live in Eastlake, National City and San Ysidro.

Mexico is now the No. 1 country in Latin America for kidnappings, surpassing even Colombia, according to reports.

10News obtained a sensitive DEA report and verified its authenticity. It is a disturbingly graphic picture of the violence.

The report said since 2005, one-thousand people have been kidnapped in Mexico, while 43 are known to have died and many have disappeared.

In Tijuana alone, in just the first half of last year, 91 kidnappings were reported -- roughly one victim every other day, according to the report.

Some victims were trapped in cages inside Tijuana homes. In one cage, officials discovered the decaying bodies of two brothers, ages 21 and 16.

"They started preying on Americans and other visitors as they were traveling between Tijuana and Ensenada," said 10News' informant.

The informant has connections on both sides of the border. 10News hid his face for his protection. He told 10News narcotics traffickers are running kidnapping rings with police involvement.

It is a claim backed up by the DEA's report, which names Ensenada police officers known as the "Death Squad," and municipal and state officers called the "Black Commandos." The report said both groups are involved in murders and kidnappings.

"It goes to absolute highest levels," said the informant.

There are other ties to the San Diego region.

Former police officer Victor Magno Escobar Luna, a high-ranking cartel boss nicknamed "The Cop Killer," has just been arrested. His brother, Richard, was killed in Bonita.

A Border Patrol arrest in San Diego revealed a disturbing trend in cartel recruitment.

"These are individuals who have been training in the military. They are well-armed and well-financed," said the informant.

Bodies are often dumped with messages of warnings attached. Others are placed in drums filled with acid and lye, a disintegration method called pozole, a Mexican soup.

"Drugs are a violent business," said Zeidler.

Zeidler can't comment on the report 10News acquired but said the erupting violence is linked to recent arrests of bosses from the Arrellano-Felix cartel.

"There's no defined leadership like 10 years ago. You had Benjamin, you had the brothers running the family business. Being narcotics, you don't have that anymore," said Zeidler.

What's left is a violent fight for power, robberies of tourists and the emergence of kidnappings as a lucrative alternative to running drugs.

Family Details Violent Encounter "It makes me sad for the people who live there," said El Cajon resident Debra Hall.

Debra, her husband, Chris, and their children have always loved Mexico.

"We went down all the time, went for lunch, spent the weekend," said Debra.

Chris Hall was into off-road racing, and for years the family tagged along to Baja events with no problem until last November.

"They were men in masks, with guns drawn," said Chris.

The family was driving north on the toll road between Ensenada. Two cars filled with ten armed uniformed men pulled them over.

"They said, 'Put your heads down, shut up, we're going to kill you. Put your heads down,'" said Debra.

They forced the family into the hills, stole their Ford F250 vehicle and robbed them of everything. The group demanded to know what Chris did for a living. The Halls believed they were going to be kidnapped or murdered.

"They put us into a ditch, they covered us up with a sleeping bag," said Debra. "We just told each other we love you, we apologized to the kids, you know, and then they just drove away."

Carjackings, kidnappings and violence are on the rise in Baja, and the Halls said as much as they loved the Baja races, they are never going back.

"It's a beautiful country with phenomenal people who live there, but there are very bad things happening to innocent families, and it's just not worth it," said Debra.

The FBI said last year 26 San Diego county residents were kidnapped for ransom by Baja gangs. That's more than twice the number from the year before.

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