AP

How the gunfights in north Mexico that left 22 dead unfolded

Dec 3, 2019, 5:23 AM
mexico...
A shop's windows are riddled with bullet holes near City Hall after a gunbattle in Villa Union, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. The small town near the U.S.-Mexico border began cleaning up Monday even as fear persisted after 22 people were killed in a weekend gunbattle between a heavily armed drug cartel assault group and security forces. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

VILLA UNION, Mexico (AP) — When dozens of pickup trucks crowded with armed men and mounted machine guns roared into Villa Union, residents of the small town near the U.S. border began to realize they were the target of a military-style invasion. What followed were hours-long gunbattles between a company-sized unit (estimates of its size range from 70 to 150 men) and state police that left 22 people dead. At least 50 homes and buildings riddled with bullet holes.

In the aftermath, authorities found 25 abandoned vehicles, some with machine-gun turrets and welded armoring; many had professionally printed placards identifying them as drug cartel vehicles. At least four had .50 caliber mounted machine guns. Resident claimed there were at least twice that many pickups, with some escaping.

Residents, most of whom asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisals, described how the day of terror unfolded.

Saturday, Nov. 30, 10:00 a.m.

Residents of the town of 6,000 were still recovering from Thanksgiving, when hundreds of relatives return from the United States to join their families in a border version of the holiday many here refer to as Dia del Pavo, or Turkey Day. Local business owners were enjoying good sales this year. After a period of terror between 2010 and 2013, the old Zetas Cartel that had dominated the town had been weakened, and violence had dropped.

A local roast chicken stand began heating up the rotisserie Saturday for the day’s business.

“Ever since Thursday night we had been having good sales; a lot of people showed up for Turkey Day,” said an employee at a food stand in town’s main square.

11:30 a.m.

Residents on the east side of Villa Union — the side closest to the border city of Nuevo Laredo where a splinter of the Zetas cartel had its base — started seeing convoys of pickup trucks rolling into town. At first, many saw the ammo vests the trucks’ occupants were wearing and thought they were police or soldiers.

“My brother-in-law counted 50 trucks, but there were more on the other side of town,” said one man.

One shop owner counted 20 trucks but stopped counting when he saw that some had Texas plates — or no plates at all. He knew that meant they weren’t police. Others began seeing pickups with the letters “CDN” on their side. “CDN” stands for “Cartel del Noreste,” or “Cartel of the Northeast,” one of the splinter groups of the old Zetas.

11:45 a.m.

People began to hide.

The shop owner who noticed the Texas or absent license plates dove into his shop and hid behind the counter. The attackers descended from their vehicles with assault rifles and as soon as the shopkeeper closed his door, they began firing on the town hall.

“You don’t know what to think at a moment like that, you just hide,” said the shop owner. Outside, an ambulance and a police patrol truck were shot up; the truck caught fire and burned.

A block away from the town hall, a grandmother pulled her two grandchildren into an armoire to shield them as a hail of gunfire rang through the town. “It seemed like an eternity passed,” she said.

Beside the town hall, the objective of the attack, parish priest Federico de los Santos was in his church along with a half-dozen parishioners when the gunfire began. They threw themselves to the ground as the bullets flew.

One young man who was walking down the street in the town’s center when the gunfire broke out pounded on a food stall where the 71-year-old owner was starting to roast chicken. He banged until the owner let him in to take cover. They huddled inside.

“I’d never seen a shootout like that except in the movies,” said the stall’s owner.

12:00 p.m.

The attackers split into at least two groups, and headed toward the west side of town, apparently unaware that army troops and state police had been dispatched from the nearest barracks to the west of Villa Union.

The attackers abducted three civilians: two local firefighter and an employee of the town’s public works department. Two were later found dead.

The gunmen also abducted five young men, apparently intending to use the civilians as guides to escape along the dirt roads that circle the town.

12:30 p.m.

The cartel convoys ran into the state police and soldiers on the west side of town, with one especially fierce firefight breaking out near a gas station.

In the ensuing gunbattles, resident recorded the sound of repeated, sequential fire from assault rifles and the steady chatter of machine guns in long bursts. The gunfight lasted for an hour and a half and left four state police officers and at least nine attackers dead.

Saturday night

Police and soldiers combed the outskirts of Villa Union and nearby areas, sometimes using helicopters. Apparently not all the attackers were able to flee back east, toward Nuevo Laredo. Another gunbattle broke out and seven attackers were killed. Many were found to be wearing ammo or bulletproof vests, and camouflage clothing. The Zetas, and the Cartel of the Northeast, are known for using such military equipment.

Sunday

Reinforcements were rushed into the town. Four of the five missing youths turned up alive, apparently freed after guiding the attackers.

Residents began to sweep the shattered glass and bullet casings from the streets

The fifth missing youth, a boy of 15, also appeared alive but traumatized hours later. The attackers had left him far outside of town.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

The White House to ask for less money to fund border wall...
ACACIA CORONADO and GISELA SALOMON Associated Press

Increase in Venezuelan migration is felt across US

Dave and Dujanovic discuss the causes of immigration and are joined by U of U political science professor. Listen live at 10:05 EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — It cost Nerio two months and everything he had to get from Venezuela to the U.S., traveling mainly by foot and watching as exhausted fellow migrants were assaulted […]
2 days ago
In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
5 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
6 days ago
Trump pictured. A lawsuit against Trump was just filed in new york...
Associated Press

NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization.
7 days ago
el helicoide caracas...
RODRIQUE NGOWI, GISELA SALOMON and CLAUDIA TORRENS Associated Press

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization. The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday […]
9 days ago
school classrooms...
Collin Binkley Associated Press

Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

WASHINGTON (AP) — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math […]
13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
How the gunfights in north Mexico that left 22 dead unfolded