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Shooting of soccer star rivets Mexico

Salvador Cabanas of Club America is in a coma after being shot this week in a Mexico City bar. Suspects are named in the case, which has pushed aside the Haitian disaster and other news.

January 26, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood
  • A fan of the soccer team Club America places a lighted candle in support of Paraguayan footballer Salvador Cabanas at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Cabanas was shot in the head at a bar this week in the Mexican capital and remained hospitalized in an induced coma. The sign reads "You have given us joy, give us the biggest joy ... get better."
A fan of the soccer team Club America places a lighted candle in support of… (Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Mexico City — It has the makings of a pulp novel: A star professional soccer player is shot and gravely wounded in a shady wee-hours bar. The main witness is a skimpily clad blond dancer, the top suspects a businessman known as "the Model" and his supposed bodyguard.

Soccer-mad Mexico has been fixated on the mystery surrounding the shooting early Monday of Salvador Cabanas, a star forward for one of the country's most popular teams, Club America of Mexico City.

Cabanas lay in an induced coma Tuesday in a Mexico City hospital after surgeons unsuccessfully attempted to extract a bullet that had been fired into his head in the men's room of a night club called Bar Bar. He was listed in grave but stable condition.

The shooting of the 29-year-old Paraguayan player, who moved to Mexico in 2003, has pushed aside the Haiti earthquake and election-year political maneuvering as the top news story here. Club America fans have kept vigil at the hospital where Cabanas lies unconscious, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon has issued a statement of sympathy.

Calderon also offered local investigators the help of federal police and prosecutors.

Cabanas was at the bar with his wife and brother-in-law when the shooting took place shortly after 5 a.m. Monday. He last played Saturday, when his team lost, 2-0, to a team from the city of Morelia.

No one has been arrested, and theories have flourished as to a motive, including that the assailant may have been a crazed fan of a rival team.

When Mexico City authorities made public a surveillance tape, the intrigue grew. Cabanas is seen entering the men's room while two people -- a beefy man in a garishly printed shirt and a shapely blond in a shiny dress -- chat nearby.

The man then enters the bathroom. He exits moments later with a second man, just as a security guard arrives and peers inside. Cabanas was later found on the floor, his head bleeding.

A separate camera shows the two men calmly walking out of the bar and calling for their car. No one tries to stop them during the 60 seconds it takes them to leave.

On Tuesday, chief Mexico City prosecutor Miguel Angel Mancera identified one of the suspects as Jose J. Balderas Garza, known as "J.J." or "the Model," about whom little was known except that he worked in the night club business, went to Bar Bar regularly and spoke with an accent from the northwestern state of Sinaloa. The second man was said to be his bodyguard and was identified Tuesday as Eduardo Garcia Alanis.

Mancera told a radio interviewer that the blond witness is a Cuban dancer. He said the suspects may have shot Cabanas out of anger that his brother-in-law had been talking to the dancer, who was sitting with two other young women at the suspects' table.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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