REYNOSA — Fear and panic filled the streets of Reynosa on Sunday night as rival gunmen battled during a three-hour firefight that saw automatic weapons and grenades used. Surprisingly, Mexican authorities were absent for most of the melee.
The opening clashes were reported just before 9 p.m. Sunday, when rival factions of the Gulf Cartel consummated what appeared to be a yet another rift within the criminal organization.
During the protracted gunbattle, dozens of gunmen were killed, but authorities Monday would only confirm the deaths of two bystanders and the injury of a third.
A Tamaulipas law enforcement official, who asked to not be named citing security reasons, confirmed that the death toll was about three dozen, however the exact figures were not known because cartel gunmen picked up their own people’s bodies during the struggle.
In a news release, the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office, known as the PGJE, confirmed that the two slain bystanders were a taxi driver and a teenager who was riding a vehicle with his father. The release confirms one person was injured and seven gunmen arrested, and it states that authorities seized 22 vehicles that were used in the melee, but it doesn’t mention any gunmen dying.
The Tamaulipas law enforcement agent called the new release issued by his superiors an insult to common sense.
“There were four trucks filled with bodies that (members of organized crime) picked up,” the official said. “That is not counting the (bodies) that were left behind.”
The news release doesn’t mention a bullet-riddled SUV that was left along Boulevard Hidalgo, one of the city’s main avenues, just south of Vista Hermosa Avenue near the local headquarters of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, known as the PGR. Inside the truck, four bloodied bodies could be seen from a distance hours after sundown Sunday. Just north of that location near the Fiesta Inn Hotel along Boulevard Hidalgo, another bullet-riddled vehicle could be seen with three bodies inside.
Most of the city’s main avenues had been blocked off with hijacked trailers or buses, and road spikes were littered in other areas to stop traffic.
While online the shootout in Reynosa has become common knowledge, mainstream news media have remained mum about it, said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, chair of the Government Department at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
“This has me very worried because this blackout is coming from both sides,” Correa Cabrera said. “Not only are we seeing organized crime shushing the media but now we are seeing the government at all levels put a lid on the media where you now have virtually no mainstream coverage of a battle of this magnitude.”
TAKING CARE OF STRANGERS
In a city where the constant threat of extortion by criminal organizations has caused citizens to be wary of their own shadow, when the shots started flying Sunday night, the community came together in an effort to protect bystanders.
While social media users began pointing out the areas of potential danger, average citizens took matters into their own hands to warn the public. In a gated community along Boulevard Hidalgo, a man stood by the gate warning residents to stay inside because of the ongoing firefight.
In the Wal-Mart store just a few blocks away, also along Boulevard Hidalgo, store employees locked the doors and asked their customers to remain calm as gunmen chased each other up and down the road.
“Please don’t go out, young man,” an employee said in Spanish to one patron. “It’s really ugly out there and it’s been going for more than 30 minutes.”
In a shopping plaza called Soriana Periférico near the city’s Southwestern side, the customers were also asked to stay inside for more than three hours until the roads cleared.
“It was a very long night,” said a Reynosa teenager who refused to give his name. The teen had gone to the movies with his friends but was not able to leave. “I already called my mom so she won’t worry.
“What the hell is going on?” he exclaimed.
As gunmen battled it out in the streets Sunday night, Ramiro Hernandez was busy in his garage. The maquila supervisor didn’t have work the next morning, so he was firing up the grill to cook a few steaks.
“What can you do?” Hernandez said in Spanish. “I’m not going to go out there right now. (My family and I) are all here so I might as well just go on and enjoy my day off.”
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com, (956) 683-4437 or on Twitter, @ildefonsoortiz.