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3 Held in Ensenada Slayings

Crime: Mexican police say drug feud was behind the killings of 19 men, women and children. Seven suspects are still at large.


MEXICO CITY — After a two-month investigation, authorities Tuesday announced their first arrests in the gruesome slaying of 19 men, women and children in Baja California, the bloodiest episode of drug violence Mexico has witnessed.

Authorities said the Sept. 17 massacre near Ensenada was committed by a gang that apparently worked for Ramon Arellano Felix, who is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and is allegedly one of Mexico's top traffickers. The gang had set out to settle a drug feud with Fermin Castro, an alleged small-time narcotics dealer who was among the victims, they said.

"The members of the armed group had previously drunk alcohol and used cocaine, which explains the brutality with which they carried out the massacre," the head of Mexico's judicial police, Gen. Guillermo Alvarez Nara, told a news conference Tuesday.

The killing at the ranch in El Sauzal, just outside Ensenada, shocked Mexicans with its cruelty. Among the victims were children ages 2 and 1.

Three gang members have been arrested and charged with murder, possession of drugs and arms, and organized crime activities, Alvarez Nara said. Authorities also are seeking arrest warrants against seven other alleged members of the group, including its leader, identified as Arturo Martinez Gonzalez.

Authorities said they cracked the case after the execution of two men in an Oct. 29 incident in Baja California. That shooting bore the hallmarks of the Ensenada massacre: A group of men wearing uniforms of the police and army gunned down victims as they lay on the floor.

Authorities gathered enough information from survivors of the two attacks to detain Armando Villegas Santacruz, who confessed to being present at the executions, officials said.

He, in turn, led them to a ranch where officials discovered arms and military and police uniforms apparently used in the Ensenada attack, authorities said.

Alvarez Nara did not say how the gang members got such uniforms or if they had ties to the police, authorities said.

According to the investigation, the massacre at Ensenada occurred when the gang went to steal 800 kilos of marijuana from Fermin Castro to settle a debt, Alvarez Nara said.

At least one of the gang members being sought is believed to be in the United States, the authorities said.

Greg Brosnan in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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