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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Parents' quest helps identify remains in barrel

The LaPortes' search for their son ends when Mexican officials confirm the remains found in Rosarito are of their son Daniel. They also learn that he was apparently smuggling marijuana.

January 17, 2009|Evelyn Larrubia

Mexican officials have confirmed that human remains found in a barrel of chemicals in Rosarito are of a San Diego man, an alleged marijuana smuggler who disappeared after traveling to Mexico in February.

Daniel LaPorte's parents, who live in Rhode Island, said they will arrange for remains kept by Mexican authorities for DNA testing to be cremated and sent to them. They expect to hold a memorial service next month.

"It will be something that we'll have here, so we can have some kind of closure," said his mother, Linda LaPorte.

The LaPortes spent more than $100,000 on private investigators in an effort to find their son after his sudden disappearance. They said that's when they learned that he was trafficking in tons of marijuana.

LaPorte is among several dozen U.S. citizens slain in Mexico in the last two years, a time when drug-related killings of Mexicans surged past 8,000. State Department officials say deaths of U.S. citizens are probably underestimated, because foreign law enforcement officials are not required to report them to the U.S.

Dozens more U.S. citizens and residents have been kidnapped during that time, including a few who were abducted in the U.S. and held in Mexico, officials said.

Authorities say few of the American victims were tourists. Some, like LaPorte, apparently were involved in drug trafficking. Others lived in Mexico and may have known their attackers, or were businesspeople who crossed the border regularly and were seen as an easy source of cash.

The State Department has issued safety warnings for those traveling to Tijuana and other border towns, noting a spate of killings, robberies, kidnappings and carjackings.

"Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, and Nogales are among the cities which have recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues," an October travel advisory noted.

Mexico is in the midst of a violent drug war involving competing cartels, police, federal authorities and the army. Slayings have become increasingly bold, gruesome and public.

LaPorte's case seemed as though it might go unsolved until his Cadillac was found in Rosarito in May, sprayed with automatic gunfire, with the bodies of four other trafficking suspects left in and around the car. Months into the family's inquiries, Mexican authorities mentioned to the LaPortes' private detective that they had found remains mostly dissolved in an industrial barrel two days after Daniel LaPorte disappeared.

Mexican officials compared DNA from bone fragments, which had spilled from the industrial barrel after it was hit by a car, with swabs taken from Linda and Joseph LaPorte. The results confirmed that the victim was related to them.

After her son moved to San Diego in 2005, Linda LaPorte said she flirted with the idea of retiring there. Not anymore.

"It's too close to the border," she said. "I'm going to keep my snow. You keep your palm trees."

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evelyn.larrubia@latimes.com

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