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Teenage Cartel Hitman Is a U.S. Citizen

But he's only one teen killer among many as Mexico's drug violence intensifies

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The floppy-haired 14-year-old turned, like any other modern teen, to YouTube to make his confession. But unlike a typical 8th-grader, Edgar Jimenez's was confessing to beheading people for a Mexican drug cartel for the price of $2,500 each. A hunt for the boy ensued, and this week, Mexican authorities nabbed the "hit boy" known as "El Ponchis" at an airport; he was en route to Tijuana, where he and his teenage sister were planning to sneak into San Diego. Why? He's an American citizen.

Jimenez was arrested Thursday night, suspected of working for Pacific Sur, a gang that splintered off from the notorious Beltran Leyva cartel. The teen was paraded in front of news cameras, even as police guards wore masks for their own protection, yet another symptom of the persistent horrific violence that has plagued Mexico since the start of its drug war. As an American citizen, Jimenez will get "all appropriate consular assistance," CNN reports.

But shockingly, Jimenez is not unique as a child participant in this violence. Drug cartels--like their fellow fans of beheadings, Al Qaeda--are increasingly leaning on kids and women to help them maintain control over large areas of the country. Here are a couple of accounts on offer in the media as outlets attempt to contextualize.

  • Gangs Recruiting More Kids  "The number of young people aged 18 and under detained for drug-related crimes has climbed steadily since President Felipe Calderón launched his assault on cartels in 2006," reports The Telegraph's Harriet Alexander. "Figures from the Attorney General's office show that there were 482 arrests of under 18s in 2006, and 810 in 2009. The tally this year is set to be even higher." A psychologist says Jimenez is a "psychopath," and that kids like him "like to kill, to steal, and they don't need to conform to society because they are mistreated and become very hostile from a young age." But The Houston Chronicle's Dudley Althaus points out that other teens have also been arrested for drug killings: 
Several Laredo teenagers were convicted in 2007 for carrying out killings on behalf of the Zetas, the violent organization entrenched in Nuevo Laredo and other towns along the South Texas border. One of those teens, Rosalio 'Bart' Reta, killed his first victim at age 13 and might have murdered more than 30 others before being captured.
  • Gangs Recruiting Women, Too, The Guardian's Jo Tuckman and Rory Carroll add, describing a taped confession of a women who said she worked for the Zetas "killing taxi drivers, police officers, innocent people and children." Photos of "her severed head in an icebox" were posted online a couple days later. The "number of women imprisoned for federal crimes, most of which are drug-related, has quadrupled in three years," a study found. Women are pulled into the cartels by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • Violence So Pervasive It's Changing the Language, Fox News' Steve Harrigan writes about his own experience in the area. "'Narcofosa' is a word I heard for the first time in Juarez. Narco means workers for the drug cartels and fosa means grave. We were standing in a mass grave where 20 narcos had been buried outside of Juarez. Because many of the bodies were decapitated, identification is unlikely. So the bodies are just put in unmarked graves in one section of the cemetery known as the narcofosa or 'the graves for the headless.'"
  • WikiLeaks Docs Show U.S. Frustrated with Mexico's Drug War, the Los Angeles Times' Tracy Wilkinson writes. "In contrast to their upbeat public assessments, U.S. officials expressed frustration with a 'risk averse' Mexican army and rivalries among security agencies ... The cables quoted Mexican officials expressing fear that the government was losing control of parts of its national territory and that time was 'running out' to rein in drug violence." One cable says: "Official corruption is widespread, leading to a compartmentalized siege mentality among 'clean' law enforcement leaders and their lieutenants. ... Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; 2% of those detained are brought" to court.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.