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El Monte school board member killed in Mexico was in 'wrong place at the wrong time,' ex-police chief says

January 1, 2010 | 12:48 pm

El Monte residents paid tribute today to a 33-year-old school board member who was abducted and killed in Mexico, with one city leader saying he believes Agustin Roberto “Bobby” Salcedo was an innocent victim of the country's drug war.

"There's a huge war between the Mexican government and the drug lords, and I think Bobby was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said former El Monte Police Chief Ken Weldon, who has worked alongside Salcedo on community activities. "It could have been you or I or anyone else. I think when you're killing six people, you're making a statement for whatever reason."

Weldon described Salcedo as conscientious and hard-working, a "giver" and a leader, raising money for school events and trying to help families in need.

"People in this town loved him. Everybody loved Bobby. This is a dagger in the hearts of a lot of people," Weldon said. "El Monte has a way of coming together. Sometimes good comes out of the bad. We'll see if something good comes out of this. If we use Bobby as a role model for us, if we see what he did, it'll make El Monte a better place." 

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero expressed outrage over the killing.

"I hope this focuses people's attention on the senseless killings taking place in Mexico right now," who was close friends with Salcedo. "He is a major figure in this community. He was a teacher for years, so imagine all the students he taught."

Salcedo was apparently at a pool hall when armed men burst in and kidnapped him and five other men. All six were found dead Thursday, El Monte officials said. Salcedo’s wife, who was vacationing with him, was not abducted.

Salcedo, who also was the assistant principal of instruction at El Monte High School, had arrived in the Mexican city of Gomez Palacio earlier this week. The city of 240,000 is in the state of Durango and is the hometown of Salcedo’s wife, Betzy.

Salcedo, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, and his wife were dining with some of her former classmates when the attack occurred, said Salcedo’s brother, Carlos.

“They ordered everyone to the floor. They threatened to shoot them all if anyone dared to look up. They abducted the men,” Carlos Salcedo said. “Their whereabouts were unknown until the police chief informed my sister-in-law that they found the bodies, my brother included."

The bodies were discovered alongside a canal, local media reported. All the victims had been shot in the head, and dozens of spent bullet casings were found at the site, suggesting they had been slain on the spot, the reports said.

Carlos Salcedo said he did not know the identities of the other men.

Friends and family were in shock Thursday. They said there was no reason for the couple to be targeted. Salcedo’s wife told family members that she did not recognize any of the gunmen’s voices.

“From all accounts right now, it sounds random,” Carlos Salcedo said. “There is no reason for my brother to be targeted.”

Raging drug violence and rampant corruption have been a major problem in Durango, a tense, rough state. The local Catholic archbishop, Hector Gonzalez Martinez, recently described the region to The Times as one where gunmen “own the night” in village after village, even threatening priests.

The couple had been married two years, and Betzy Salcedo was a physician in Mexico. She has been preparing for examinations to practice in the United States.

Carlos Salcedo said his brother’s wife was devastated.

“She’s extremely brokenhearted. It’s a nightmare. I can’t believe it’s happening,” he said. “My brother had just such a bright future. He was finishing up his doctorate at UCLA — just the type of person you want in your community as a leader.”

In November, Salcedo was reelected to a new term on the school board of the El Monte City School District, which governs the city’s elementary schools.

Salcedo was born to a family of Mexican immigrants who arrived in the Los Angeles area in the 1960s. His father was a construction worker and his mother a homemaker. They had only an elementary school education, Carlos Salcedo said, but they pushed their five children to succeed educationally, and all went to college.

Salcedo wanted to give back to his community by becoming an educator, his brother said.
Salcedo was student body president when he attended Mountain View High School in El Monte in the early 1990s and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in history, later earning a master’s degree in educational administration at Cal State San Bernardino. He had been completing work on a doctorate in educational leadership at UCLA.

Before becoming a school administrator, he taught world history, government and economics. He inspired some of his former students to become teachers themselves, and some now work in El Monte, his brother said.

Quintero said Salcedo was devoted to education and leadership. The mayor said his friend volunteered at book giveaways and food drives.

“Bobby was an absolute bright, shining star in our community,” Quintero said.

Gomez Palacio was a familiar city to Salcedo. He and his wife married there about 2 1/2 years ago, and Salcedo was a past president of the South El Monte/Gomez Palacio sister city organization.

Quintero said he hoped authorities would do whatever they can to catch the suspects.

“They didn’t just take his life. They robbed him from our community. ... We have to get justice,” he said.

Quintero said Salcedo worked with community colleges to get students from the community into universities. "Think of all the people his life has touched," he said. "This is a huge, huge loss to the community. This guy was a leader from when he was young. He was student body president at Mountain View High school, and he chose to come back and serve El Monte."

According to a Times interactive map, there were at least 669 drug-related killings in Durango between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 29 of last year, the most recent information available from the University of San Diego Trans Border Institute’s analysis of data from the Agencia Reforma newspaper group. Overall in Mexico, more than 9,900 drug-related killings occurred during that period.

-- Hector Becerra in El Monte and Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles 

Photo: Andy Fernandez, 26, of South El Monte, wipes a tear from his face at El Monte's city hall where a photo of slain city school board member Roberto Salcedo was on display. Fernandez was a student of Salcedo's. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times