Originally published December 3, 2010 at 10:39 a.m., updated December 3, 2010 at 4:16 p.m.
Mexican soldiers arrested a 14-year-old, born in San Diego, suspected of being a killer for a drug cartel. The boy told reporters in Cuernavaca that he had been working for the cartel since he was 11.
A 14-year-old boy whom Mexican authorities say was a hit man for a drug gang was born in San Diego and heading here when arrested in Cuernavaca, an hour south of Mexico City.
The boy, Edgar Jimenez Lugo, was with two of his sisters trying to board a plane for Tijuana when scores of army officers moved in for the arrest. The boy, who was presented to reporters early today, said he participated in at least four decapitations.
Nicknamed "El Ponchis," or "The Cloak," Jimenez Lugo told reporters in Cuernavaca that he had worked for a drug cartel since he was 11. A sister, aged 16, was also arrested. Their mother lives in San Diego, according to Mexican authorities.
Jimenez Lugo said he committed the crimes under duress: He said he was "drugged and under threat that if I didn't they would kill me."
El Ponchis took on folkloric status last month as rumors spread of a 12-year-old involved in beheadings. Jimenez Lugo admitted to killing at least seven people while under the influence of drugs, according to a statement from the Mexican Army.
La Razon, a Mexican daily newspaper, reported in November that "El Ponchis" was paid $3,000 for each killing.
Victor Clark Alfaro is the director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana. He said revelation of a young assassin is far from unusual.
“What is unusual is that the phenomenon is growing as a consequence of the conditions in our country and the lack or opportunities for many children.”
Clark Alfaro said federal officials estimate that 25,000 to 30,000 children are working for cartels in Mexico, many of them orphans who live on the street.
Jimenez Lugo wore blue jeans and a T-shirt and the detained sister jeans and a sweater when they were apprehended. Their airline tickets were already purchased.
The attorney general for Morelos state said the two would be turned over to state authorities, who handle crimes committed by minors in Mexico. It is unclear whether they might be tried as juveniles or adults.
The pair were suspected of helping the South Pacific Cartel, headed by Hector Beltran Leyva, brother of Arturo Beltran Leyva, a top drug lord who was killed by Mexican Marines in Cuernavaca a year ago.
The siblings were living in a poor neighborhood of Jiutepec, a working-class suburb of Cuernavaca, known as a weekend getaway for Mexico City residents. The area has an industrial base with Nissan, Unilever and other factories, rustic single-level concrete homes and some farms.
Neighbors said the mother has worked in the San Diego area for some time, but none had information about the teenagers' father.
Hector Beltran Leyva's fight for control of the cartel has caused a major spike in violence in the state just south of Mexico City, and in neighboring Guerrero state, where the resort of Acapulco is located.
Charlie Goff, an historian and teacher at a Spanish-immersion school in Tijuana catering to American college students, said he remains skeptical of the shocking details in the Jimenez Lugo story.
Mexican authorities, under increasing pressure in the exceedingly violent and long-running war against drug cartels, tend to exaggerate, Goff said.
“I personally don’t believe that the police announce from interrogations immediately after something happens,"he said. "There’s a tremendous amount of pressure put on people to say what the police want them to say and so especially in the case of a child, you have to figure out what’s behind it all.”
San Diego law-enforcement officials said the cartels' recruiting of teens does not stop at the border. Capt. Dave Myers of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office said juveniles are regularly stopped trying to smuggle narcotics across the border.
"We have direct evidence of youth from San Diego County, most of them documented gang members, who have been involved in shoot outs in Mexico." Myers said he is aware of cartels approaching kids as young as 14.
Mexico's crackdown on cartels has coincided with a doubling of that country's prison population over the past two years -- from about 4,500 to 11,000, according to Mexican authorities.
More than 28,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence since late in 2006 with 2010 figuring to be the bloodiest year of all.
The Associated Press contributed to this story