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Mexico's drug violence comes home to California

January 1, 2010 |  3:47 pm

As family, friends and elected officials in El Monte gathered today to mourn one of their community’s rising civic stars, many said the killing this week of school board member Agustin “Bobby” Salcedo in the Mexican city of Gomez Palacios underscored Mexico’s drug violence coming home to California in a new and chilling way.

"I hope this focuses people’s attention on the senseless killings taking place in Mexico right now," said El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero, who was a close friend of Salcedo. “Bobby was an absolute bright, shining star...They didn’t just take his life. They robbed him from our community. ... We have to get justice.”

Congresswoman Judy Chu called the incident “a terrible reminder of the drug war that is raging just south of our border, and most importantly, it shows that this conflict does not respect borders.”

Salcedo, who was also assistant principal at El Monte High School, was born and raised in Southern California, but his wife Betzy is from Gomez Palacios, where she trained as a doctor. The couple were visiting her family for the holidays. They were dining with some of Betzy’s former classmates at a pool hall Wednesday evening when armed men burst in and kidnapped Salcedo and five other men. All six were found dead Thursday, El Monte officials said. 

Friends and family said there was no reason for the couple to be targeted. “From all accounts right now, it sounds random,” said Salcedo’s brother, Carlos.

The situation in the state of Durango has been worsening in the last year. Traditionally, it has had a reputation as a peaceful, hard-working ranching state while neighboring states Sinaloa and Chihuahua were known for drug trafficking.

But with drug violence now an ingrained part of life in the states all around Durango, widespread criminality and lawlessness have descended.

The return home for Christmas was once a hallowed tradition of Durangan immigrants in Southern California. This year, however, the Federation of Durangan Clubs estimated travel home was down by as much as 60%, due mostly to widespread fear, said Carlos Martinez, federation secretary.

The federation was promoting an Interjet Airlines round-trip flight from Tijuana to Durango for $220, cheaper than the cost of a bus. But the airline had to cancel the flight due to lack of sales, Martinez said.

“There’s a lot of fear,” he said. “People don’t want to risk it.”

-- Sam Quinones, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Ruben Vives and Jessica Garrison

Photo: Andy Fernandez, 26, of South El Monte wipes a tear from his face at El Monte City Hall, where a photo of slain El Monte school board member Agustin Roberto "Bobby" Salcedo and his wife was on display. Credit:  Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times