Reporting from Mexico City — A 14-year-old boy who says he's been killing or working for drug cartels since he was 11 has been captured by the Mexican army after a monthlong hunt, authorities said Friday.
Edgar Jimenez Lugo, who authorities said was born in San Diego, was wanted on suspicion of killing rivals — allegedly beheading some of them — as part of his work for an especially violent drug-trafficking cartel.
Jimenez was attempting to board a flight for Tijuana with two sisters Thursday night when authorities detained him in Morelos state south of Mexico City. They were apparently planning to flee the country after the boy's alleged exploits made headlines last month.
"I've killed four people by chopping off their heads," the boy reportedly said after his capture. "I just cut off their heads; I never went and hung the bodies from bridges or anything like that."
Jimenez, alias El Ponchis, was quoted in media reports as saying he had been forced to work for a faction of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel under pain of death ever since henchmen from the group kidnapped him three years ago. He said he was usually high on drugs as he killed.
Marco Antonio Adame, the governor of Morelos, said in a news conference that Jimenez was a U.S. citizen by virtue of his San Diego birth.
The story of the boy had become something of a cause celebre here when it first emerged several weeks ago. Rumors abounded that he was a ruthless decapitator and that some of his work had been videotaped. (Initial reports erroneously put his age at 12.) Mexican media immediately dubbed him "the boy killer" and "the hit boy."
Photographs from Morelos on Friday showed a skinny Jimenez, dressed in baggy cargo pants and a black sweatshirt, standing between two well-armed soldiers in camouflage. His hands are stuck in his pockets and his head barely clears their shoulders.
The drug gang he allegedly worked for, the so-called South Pacific Cartel, has been locked in deadly battle with another Beltran Leyva faction for control of the city of Cuernavaca and other parts of Morelos — a dispute that erupted following the killing of drug boss Arturo Beltran Leyva by Mexican forces a year ago. More than 300 people have been killed in the conflict.
Jimenez reportedly ran with a group of boys and men ages 12 to 23 and represents a trend of ever younger Mexicans working for the cartels as killers, mules and enforcers and in other capacities. If judged guilty, the boy would be the youngest cartel killer known to be in prison.
His age poses a legal dilemma for Mexican authorities, who on Friday were scrambling to figure out which laws and agencies would handle a minor suspected of such egregious crimes.
Also Friday, in another setback for Mexican attempts to put away drug traffickers, a judge acquitted the nicknamed "Queen of the Pacific" of numerous drug-related charges. Sandra Avila Beltran has been in jail since her capture in 2007, accused of serving as a key link between the Sinaloa cartel and its Colombian counterparts. A rare woman in the world of reputed drug lords, Avila remained in custody because of an outstanding extradition request from the United States.