Concerns about drug shootings linger along Arizona border

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — A deadly spasm of drug-provoked violence in northern Mexico last month has some border residents worried that it is only a matter of time before it spills over the border into Arizona.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said law enforcement officials share a common belief that the violence spawned between drug cartels operating south of the border inevitably will end up in the state.

“These criminal syndicates know no borders and use the border to their advantage as a curtain or veil to cover their activities. But in no way is it a barrier to them.”

Ranchers and merchants in the border towns say they’ve seen the fallout from the violence and worry about more to come, either in Mexico or in Arizona itself.

Some 50 drug hit men convoyed into Cananea in northern Sonora state on May 16 and killed seven people, including five police officers whom officials believe were targeted for betraying an agreement with a drug cartel. Army troops and police then pursued the gunmen, identified as “Zetas,” former Mexican army elite soldiers, through rugged mountains and, according to Mexican authorities, killed 16.

The incident followed a spate of shootings in southern Arizona in which gunmen trying to interdict drug loads killed illegal immigrants in the vehicles they had attempted to stop.

Several Douglas businessmen and merchants say there’s no doubt that the shootings have hurt commerce, which is heavily reliant on consumers from Mexico. And there’s genuine concern that the violence will become an integral part of life in Agua Prieta, Mexico, Douglas’ sister city, which many locals consider part of the same community.

“They’re worried about the violence becoming endemic in Agua Prieta,” said Douglas native Gerry Bohmfalk, who has a ranch on the border and owns Marlin’s, a saddle shop and Western outfitters store on the city’s main shopping street.

“I’ve been over there since all this happened, and I can tell you, it’s different,” Bohmfalk said of being in Agua Prieta.

“It’s changed; it’s quieter. There’s not as much hustle and bustle, and there’s a lot of people looking over their shoulder. It’s something that is so palpable you can see it.”

He said his business plunged 50 percent in the days after the Cananea shootings.

However, Connie Whelan owns Paul’s Jewelers in town and doesn’t believe most Douglas residents are worried about a violence spillover.

“But people in Mexico who have lived there for years are afraid,” she said.

The shootings have been what most customers who venture north from Mexico talk about, she said, many of whom live in Cananea. “We usually do a good graduation business, and we just haven’t seen that business” this year because of the shootings.

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