EL PASO, Texas (AP) – El Paso residents say they’re accustomed to hearing gunfire across the border in Juarez, Mexico, and won’t be taking any additional safety measures after a woman shopping in the West Texas city was struck by one of the bullets.
“We can’t put up a wall, and even if we did, it wouldn’t stop bullets from flying over it.” El Paso resident Margarita Guajardo, 43, said Wednesday, a day after Maria Romero was wounded while pushing a stroller downtown. “I’m not going to lock myself inside my house because of just one bullet,” she said in Spanish.
Romero is believed to be the first person to be hit by a bullet from drug war violence across the border. The bullet that struck her calf Tuesday is believed to have come from a gunfight between Juarez Municipal Police and alleged carjackers in a street alongside the Rio Grande levee. Romero, 48, was treated at a local hospital for non-life threatening wounds and released that afternoon.
“We live so close to the bullets. It was not the first time (bullets crossed the border), won’t be the last,” Raul Betancourt said Wednesday outside his house in El Paso, a few hundred yards from the Rio Grande.
Though bullets from Mexico have struck buildings in El Paso before, none have struck a person. And though it is across the border from one of the deadliest cities in the hemisphere, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S.
El Paso Mayor John Cook stressed that the city remains a safe place to live. “There is no way to prevent an incident like this from happening,” Cook said during a news conference Tuesday.
Locals think of Juarez and El Paso as sister cities. Both share a large metropolitan area, have strong commercial and social ties, and their downtown areas are separated by just the Rio Grande.
El Paso isn’t the only border city where stray bullets have come flying from Mexico since violence spiked in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, shots fired in Matamoros reached the University of Texas-Brownsville. But unlike some other places along the border, there’s little foliage or other obstructions to block bullets.
Shots fired in Juarez have reached El Paso at other points in history as well, author and local historian Fred Morales said. It’s been an issue since the Mexican Revolution and, years later, during the gunfights between the U.S. Border Patrol and Prohibition-era alcohol smugglers.
In 1911, during the Battle of Ciudad Juarez, bullets rained all over downtown El Paso in the exchange of gunfire between Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries and Mexican government forces. Twenty people were hit; eight died, Morales said.
Eight years later, Pancho Villa led his men on a second assault on Juarez and, again, bullets struck El Paso. “They had to evacuate the whole Chihuahuita neighborhood,” said Morales.
Julio Silva, 60, who lives in the Chihuahuita neighborhood said he remembers his mother talking about how as a child she would climb on rooftops to watch the fighting in Juarez. Now, with drug cartels fighting each other and the Juarez police, he said, it’s not uncommon to hear gunfire.
Dolores Reyes-Kennedy, 48, who also lives in that neighborhood, said that when violence in Juarez rose in 2008, “We were really scared, but then you get used to it.”
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