Commando Frees 24 Inmates, Kills 15 in Juarez Prison Attack

In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, on Sunday morning, armed men broke into the prison, where they killed 15 people, wounded 12, and allowed 24 inmates to escape.

Commando Frees 24 Inmates, Kills 15 in Juarez Prison Attack
Commando frees 24 Juarez prison inmates, kills 15 people. Credit: Noticias y Tendencias

Minutes after seven in the morning, Dolores was about to arrive at the entrance booth of the Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) 3 to visit her son, who had been imprisoned for three years for crimes against health. Suddenly, at least 12 men armed with assault rifles and tactical equipment burst in, shouting, "Everybody down!" They killed two guards at the entrance and hurt two people who were related to the prisoners.

The killers may have been part of the Los Mexicles gang, which is part of the Gente Nueva group. Gente Nueva is the armed and operational arm of the Sinaloa cartel. They broke into six vans, some of them armored, just as the New Year's Eve visit to the inmates was beginning. In no more than 10 minutes, they killed 10 guards and five inmates and injured 12 people (prisoners, guards, and civilians); their objective was to free 24 convicts from their criminal organization.

Some of the escapees stripped civilians of their vehicles in the vicinity of the prison; a woman had a Hummer vehicle stolen, and an Uber driver had his car taken away. There were reports of at least four other vehicles stolen in that area. Security forces repelled the attack, and at least 100 relatives of the prisoners, including women and children who were in the customs area, were caught in the crossfire. There were two hours of gunfire.

A commander of the State Investigation Agency said that the attack on the prison turned into a riot because groups of inmates set fire to blankets and mattresses and fired shots to delay the arrival of law enforcement. Unofficial sources said that Los Mexicles attacked the guards both outside and inside the prison to make it easier for them to break in and get 24 of their friends out.

Ernesto Piñón de la Cruz, El Neto, and César Vega Muñoz, Chilín, leaders of Los Mexicles, imprisoned since 2009 for organized crime and kidnapping, escaped. El Neto is thought to have planned the so-called "Black Thursday" of August 11, when Los Mexicles hitmen set fire to buses, attacked stores, and civilians, and killed 11 people, including children and women, to stop him from being moved to another prison.

This is how SEDENA regains control of Cereso 3 in Ciudad Juarez after the escape of highly dangerous inmates.
This is how SEDENA regains control of Cereso 3 in Ciudad Juarez after the escape of highly dangerous inmates, mainly hired killers. Credit: Carlos Guzmán Martín

Eyewitness Account of Deadly Gang Attack on Juarez Prison

"We were left lying on the ground. As relatives of people detained, we know that we should not provoke them, we should not move so as not to provoke their anger," said Dolores, 45 years old. Five years ago one of her sons was killed in multiple executions.

She said that when the gunmen entered the prison, the one guarding the entrance, "a brat between 18 and 20 years old with an angry face, told us with a rifle pointed at us: 'Crawl to that place, you little bastards, to that side, in that corner, without looking at the exit. There were about 30 of us, most of us women, some of us minors, and we obeyed immediately until five of Los Mexicles came out with their prisoners, I think five of them," he added as he turned towards the guardhouse. The blood came out of the floor like a stream of water and the whole thing lasted no more than 10 minutes."

They came for El Neto, head of the special forces of Los Mexicles, to prevent them from taking him to another prison; all the inmates knew about it and prepared themselves; my son told me on the phone on Wednesday, asking me not to come today. I didn't believe him, because I hadn't seen him for 30 days and look what happened. Only God knows."

Inmates escape during the riot in Cereso 3 in Ciudad Juarez.
Inmates escape during the riot in Cereso 3 in Ciudad Juarez. Credit: canal44

Security Forces Retake Control of Juarez Prison After Gang Attack

After the attack on Cereso 3, soldiers from the Ninth Motorized Cavalry Regiment, the Military Garrison, the National Guard, the local Public Security Secretariat, and the State Investigation Agency went into the prison to regain control. In the meantime, people from the Army, the National Guard, the Public Prosecutor's Office, and the Public Security Secretariat started patrolling the area with artillery vehicles and help from the Eagle 2 helicopter to find the escaped prisoners.

In two chases on the Panamericana and Manuel Gómez Morn avenues, 13 km from Cereso 3, three alleged criminals were killed and five others were caught. They took 14 long guns, two pistols, bulletproof vests, tactical gear, and ammunition, as well as two pickup trucks that they thought were used by members of Los Mexicles.

The Morenista mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Cruz Perez Cuellar, declared that the entire municipal police force is on alert and asked citizens not to go out on the streets if it is not necessary. Members of the Ninth Motorized Cavalry Regiment and the State Investigation Agency, who searched every inch of the prison, put down the riot around 1:00 p.m.

The murdered guards were identified as Manuel Rodríguez Soria, Carlos Santiago Padilla Silva, Abel Juárez Hernández, Víctor Hugo Rivera Meraz, Carlos Ernesto Salinas Bañuelos, José Ausencio Pérez Puentes, Jaime Arciniega Alvarado, Guadalupe Gámez Galán, Domingo Trejo Serrano and Édgar Hernández García. Police officers guarding the perimeter of the prison released the identity of 10 of the injured inmates, under pressure from family members who remained outside the prison all day Sunday and demanded information.

Mexican army takes control of Juarez Prison Attack.
Mexican army takes control of Juarez Prison Attack. Credit: VALOR POR TAMAULIPAS

Cereso 3 Prison in Juarez a Hotspot for Gang Violence and Overcrowding

Cereso 3 is located in the Toribio Ortega neighborhood, and its administration corresponds to the state government, headed by PAN member María Eugenia Campos Galván. On two occasions last year, members of Los Mexicles ordered from the prison attacks and fires against Oxxo stores, maquiladora buses, and other civilian targets.

According to a report by the State Human Rights Commission last February, more than 3,700 people are incarcerated in this prison, when its capacity is 3,135. This prison is divided into at least three separate zones: in one are members of Gente Nueva (at the service of the Sinaloa cartel), in another are members of La Linea (linked to the Juarez cartel), and in the last are members of various local gangs.

It has been the scene of fights and riots, including one that left 20 dead in March 2009. Gente Nueva and La Línea have been fighting for control of drug-trafficking territories in Ciudad Juárez for 15 years.

Inmates of Juarez Prison Possessed Arsenal and Access to Drugs, Alcohol

The inmates of State Social Reinsertion Center 3, who participated in a shooting and escaped this morning, had access to drugs and alcohol and possessed an arsenal, according to informed personnel from the Ninth Motorized Cavalry Regiment. After checking out the different yards, they found more than 10 long guns, magazines, bullets, tactical clothing, and dozens of bottles of alcohol in the cell of Ernesto Alfredo Pion de la Cruz, "Neto", the leader of the Mexicles, who told a military commander who was taking part in the containment actions.

"They had an arsenal, they had not escaped because they did not want to, and they resisted in two areas when we entered after the shooting this morning," said the informant, whose identity is being withheld from El Diario. The weapons located were secured and sent for analysis to the laboratory of the State Prosecutor's Office, where an analysis will be made in coordination with the Attorney General's Office (FGR), he reported. The weapons were found in area 5, module 18, corridor 1, and cell 2.