Police have arrested two suspects in the brutal murder of a family of eight, all bound and stabbed to death in Ciudad Juarez, adjoining El Paso, Texas, and separated only by the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Jesus Mendoza and Edgar Lujan, both employees in city factories, allegedly took revenge on the family after Maximo Romero, 27, refused to honor a lost bet on dog fights involving his Pit Bull Terriers, prosecutor Enrique Villarreal told a news conference in Juarez.
Although there was speculation that the debt was for a "stud fee" for dog breeding, according to the suspects the motive behind the brutal killing was a $115 debt for gambling at a dog fight, authorities confirm.
Members of the family’s Jehovah’s Witness congregation discovered the massacred bodies when several of the victims didn’t show up as planned on Sunday morning.
Slaughtered were a 60-year-old woman, two of her daughters, their spouses and three very young children. A 2-month-old infant was spared.
Gonzalez confirmed early suggestions that the family knew their killers, due to the fact that there was no evidence of forced entry. In fact, the victims appear to have opened the door for their executioners due to a "common friendship."
The knife used for the murder was allegedly from the victims’ kitchen. All victims were found with tape over their mouths and their hands tied. The oldest, named María del Carmen Morales Infante, was aged 60. Other members of the massacred family included two 4-year-olds (Abril Romero and Valeria Lara Castañeda) and a 6-year-old (Daniel Romero Castañeda).
PROSECUTORS SAY THE CHILDREN WERE KILLED SO THEY COULD NOT LATER IDENTIFY THE ATTACKERS.
One of the victims was the father, according to reports. Maximo Martin Romero Sánchez - nicknamed Max - aged 27, sold used cars at his home and may have had cash with him at the time of the killing.
Prosecutors said the killers had gone to the family's home a month ago trying to collect a debt that was owed by Romero Sanchez. At that time, Romero Sanchez said he didn't have the money.
When the suspects returned on Sunday and Romero Sanchez once again told them he didn't have the money, the family members were apparently then bound, gagged and hacked to death in their home in a poor neighborhood on the east side of the city. OnTuesday investigators found traces of blood on their clothing, assistant Chihuahua state prosecutor Enrique Villarreal Macias said.
DNA TESTS ORDERED & SAMPLES TAKEN FROM THE VICTIMS' FINGERNAILS.
A widespread lack of confidence in the justice system of Ciudad Juarez and suspicions that confessions have been tortured from innocent people led prosecutors to present the two men in custody to the press and allow journalists to ask them questions yesterday.
Neither appeared physically mistreated, but only one of them, Jesus Mendoza Hernandez, 21, spoke to reporters. He said he stood guard outside while the other suspect, Edgar Lujan Guevara, 31, stabbed the family members. 'I was guarding the door, but I didn't kill anybody,' Mendoza Hernandez said. He told reporters that he heard screaming, went inside and saw Romero Sanchez and one woman dead.
He said at that point he took 2,500 pesos ($192) from the pockets and purses of people at the home and left.
Prosecutor Villarreal Macias said two other suspects still being sought also participated in the killings, piling the corpses of the three young children atop those of the five adults on beds in the home. But Mendoza Hernandez said that he and Lujan Guevara acted alone.
Investigators appear to have all but ruled out drug-gang involvement in the killings in a city that has suffered years of cartel violence.
Church elders said they never heard about Romero Sanchez's family having any problems. About 150 people gathered Wednesday night at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Ciudad Juarez for the funeral service of four members of the family.
'They, the family, were honorable people, dedicated to the church and to God. They would come to the church's meetings every Thursday and Sunday,' church elder Ismael Toribio said. 'This is something I can't explain. We are in shock.'
“CITY OF DOGS”
Ciudad Juarez is also known as Mexico's "city of dogs" with a total of 200,000 stray dogs - German shepherds, Labradors and even poodles - roaming its streets.
Every month, around 700 dogs are found dead on city streets, killed by hunger, accidents involving or intentional killing.