The cemetery pops into view as an incongruous burst of bright colors atop a bleak desert plain. These are the normal graves, decked out with artificial flowers and ribbons. The unknown are buried separately in the fosa comun, or communal grave, without headstones or crosses.
It takes several minutes of tramping across lumpy berms, amid discarded soda bottles and plastic petals blown by the wind from neighboring sections, to find where the city recently interred 25 unclaimed bodies.
The cemetery manager appears no older than 15. He ticks off the burials this year. They are logged by hand in ink in a bound ledger in the darkened graveyard office. There were 26 in March. April had 27. June, 30. September, 49.
So far this year, more than 200 unidentified bodies have been buried in the San Rafael graveyard, a new high that the manager says is an accurate gauge of the violence taking place in town. "It all ends up here," he declares.
As we leave the cemetery, Hawley's team converges on a fatal shooting in a working-class neighborhood called Satelite. We recognize Raymundo Grado, the beefy camillero who collected the bodies from the double killing in Tierra Nueva a day earlier.
This afternoon's victim, a 32-year-old man, lies twisted on the parched lawn that serves as courtyard for a complex of low-slung apartments. He has fallen, face up and bent awkwardly into an L, near a rusted olive swing set and worn, metal seesaw.
This eastern neighborhood is notorious for drug dealing and narcomaquilas, small-scale packaging operations for selling drugs on the streets. The playground, now cordoned by the familiar yellow police tape, has been the setting of previous shootings.
A crowd at the scene includes children and maintains the same funereal quiet as the spectators in Tierra Nueva. The investigators comb the grass for clues. The victim, wearing an orange pullover, bluejeans and white sneakers, bears a crimson wound above the left eye. His father was shot too, but survived. Witnesses said two men with hoods over their faces did the shooting, then fled.
Anguished keening rises from a nearby house: "M'ijo, m'ijo." My son. My son. The crowd stares, and Grado eases the man's body into the coroner's van. The grief-stricken mother moans still. "Ay, m'ijo."
Before Grado can ferry the body back to the morgue, though, he is summoned to another pickup, this time downtown. He takes the Satelite victim along.
Two bodies are waiting, the ones seat-belted at matching angles in the forest-green Chevy Tahoe.
The bullet-riddled vehicle has come to rest beside a railroad track, down the street from the city's bullring and within view of the Camino Real hotel on the El Paso side. More police tape, more whispering. The dominant sound is the rhythmic squeaking of the SUV's windshield wipers. It has not rained all day.
Luis Nava, a 33-year-old parking attendant stands on the edge of the crowd and recites the numbers: This is the fourth shooting he's witnessed. He thinks he heard about 15 shots before a white car took off around the corner.
Nava wonders when the killing will end, but sees nothing to suggest any time soon. "This is very ugly, all this," he says. "I don't know what is going to happen here."
We edge our way around the police cordon and, with a ladder borrowed from a crew of masons, climb onto a roof above the vehicle. The silent street, which bears the name of Mexican revolutionary leader Francisco "Pancho" Villa, shimmers with shattered glass.
Hawley's investigators snap photos and tally spent bullet casings with numbered yellow tent-shaped markers. There are 52.
The SUV's passenger window has been blown out by the explosion of bullets. There are holes in the windshield. The victims, a bulky, 40-year-old driver and a passenger later identified as his 12-year-old daughter, show no signs of having fired back. Both have multiple gunshot wounds.
The police helicopter makes its passes as Grado reaches into the vehicle to enclose the girl in a body bag. Bullets have shredded the shoulder of her light-blue sweat shirt. A plastic Coke bottle falls from the cab as he pulls her onto a gurney.
Grado shifts to the driver's side and methodically removes the heavyset man, grasping his belt and shoulder. Above him, in the dimming afternoon light, a woman grins broadly from a banner promoting the virtues of teeth whitening.
There are places in the world where society falls apart in ways that are swift and unmistakable: Rebels storm the government radio station; a warlord claims dominion; refugees swarm the border. Mexico is not one of these.
Even in Ciudad Juarez, even these days, residents drop off their kids at school and go to work, streetlights come on at dusk and the trash gets picked up. They're selling Christmas trees at the Home Depot.
But all around are signs of social fraying. Menacing notes appear outside schools warning of harm unless teachers hand over their year-end bonuses. The city's most respected crime reporter, Armando Rodriguez, of the El Diario newspaper, is dead, sprayed by gunfire two weeks earlier as he sat in his car in front of his home. His 8-year-old daughter, sitting next to him, somehow survives.
No corner is off limits. The Mexican army has turned a water park called Las Anitas into a camp for its drug war troops. We try to visit on our last day in Juarez. Atop the colorful water slides, helmeted soldiers now stand guard. You can't go in.
All over town, people ask who really rules Juarez. Reyes, the mayor, says the government "has to retake control of the streets." The unspoken admission is that they are already lost.