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For Suspect, Notoriety and Unclear Motive

March 25, 1994|FERNANDO ROMERO and SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TIJUANA — Mario Aburto Martinez, who had led an unremarkable life, launched himself into infamy when, authorities say, he assassinated Luis Donaldo Colosio, the man widely expected to be Mexico's next president.

"I did it for Mexico!" the 23-year-old factory worker reportedly told his interrogators after his capture by an angry crowd in a broadcast spectacle.

But just who is this curly-haired figure, whose chaotic apprehension--he was beaten, bloodied and dazed--has been repeated and repeated on television screens and whose confession was recorded Thursday?

Authorities said they have few clues to Aburto's motive. Officials, and those who knew him, said a lack of drama characterized his life--until Wednesday, when he has admitted that he stepped forward from a crowd and coolly gunned down Colosio, 44, the presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI as it is known.

Aburto has told police that he is a dedicated pacifist. A native of central Mexico, he lived for a time in San Pedro and was employed for about a year at a Torrance furniture firm, where his father and one brother still work. His sister is believed to reside in the San Diego area.

In the Colonia Buenos Aires Norte, the area Aburto called home in recent years, he is remembered as an unremarkable man who went to work at his assembly plant job and once fell in love and ran off with a woman.

His neighborhood is poor. It is filled with dirt tracks and temporary dwellings of cardboard and tin. It is the home to many laborers in foreign-owned factories. Aburto's house, actually owned by his mother, is a brick structure that appears to be one of the better in the neighborhood.

"We never supposed it could be him," Yolanda Godinez Gomez, a former neighbor here, said of Aburto. "We were not only surprised, but indignant."

Elena Soria, another area resident, added: "He didn't mix much with the neighbors, but, like all men, he liked to flirt with the girls. He seemed normal."

The Mexican attorney general said Thursday that Aburto had confessed to killing Colosio. Authorities say he was the sole gunman who fired two fatal shots, one of which hit Colosio in the head, the other in the abdomen.

Officials said Aburto had planned his attack. He bought the murder weapon--a Brazilian-made, .38-caliber Taurus revolver--in recent weeks, possibly in California.

The weapon has been traced to a buyer who purchased it from a San Francisco-area dealer in 1977, said a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is assisting Mexican authorities in tracing the weapon.

U.S. officials are attempting to follow the chain of transactions to determine how the weapon made its way into Mexican history.

Tests have shown gunpowder residue on Aburto's hands, indicating that he had fired a firearm recently, authorities said.

They said Aburto arrived at the scene--in the poor Lomas Taurinas neighborhood, northeast of downtown--with the goal of killing Colosio, who was giving a campaign speech during the first day of a two-day swing through this border down.

A witness to the shooting who identified herself as Maria, 31, said the gunman arrived at the neighborhood by taxi about 1:30 p.m. with two or three other people. "He seemed so calm," she said.

Aburto mingled among the 3,000 or so in the crowd who sought to greet Colosio after he had finished his speech. When Colosio neared, walking down a sloping dirt path, Aburto shot him twice at point-blank range, police said.

A second man under questioning, Vicente Mayoral Valenzuela, a 47-year-old former state police official here, seems to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time and nothing more, law enforcement officials said. They now call Mayoral a witness.

As for Aburto, authorities said he is a native of the town of Zamora, in the central state of Michoacan, where he lived until he was 15.

The poverty there forced him, as it has with so many others, to seek a better life in the north--in this bustling border city and, beyond, in Southern California.

Ruben Aburto, the suspect's father, expressed shock at his son's arrest and left early Thursday from his job at a Torrance furniture firm, co-workers said.

"He looked very upset," said George Villasenor, a supervisor at the Torrance facility where Ruben Aburto Sr. and Ruben Jr. both work.

Suspect Aburto told investigators that he is an industrial mechanic working out of a machine shop in a neighborhood northeast of downtown Tijuana known as Mesa de Otay, a haven for U.S.- and Japanese-owned assembly plants.

In October, 1993, U.S. immigration authorities revoked Aburto's border-crossing card when he was discovered to have been working without authorization in the United States, said a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Such cards allow border-area residents to enter the United States to visit and shop, but not to work.

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