LA BLANCA, Texas (Reuters) - Masked gunmen killed three men and wounded eight others when they opened fire on an illegal cockfighting ring in southern Texas, the local sheriff said Thursday.
Two to four gunmen ambushed the rooster fight Thursday morning shortly after midnight, shooting "indiscriminately" into a group of spectators behind a remote farmhouse about 20 miles northeast of McAllen, Texas, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino.
Witnesses told investigators a chaotic scene erupted when the masked men opened fire at the cockfighting operation, sending people into nearby woods to hide while others fled in vehicles, Trevino said. That contaminated much of the evidence at the scene, making it difficult for investigators to reconstruct the attack, he said.
"This has to be the crime scene from hell," Trevino said. "It was a chaotic situation."
Investigators remained at the scene early Thursday morning, using a police dog to scour the area and search for other possible victims who may have fled into the brush, Trevino said.
The eight men wounded in the ambush remained at area hospitals, the sheriff said. The three dead all suffered multiple gunshot wounds, he said.
The sheriff had no details about the identities of the victims.
No arrests have been made, and little is known about the attackers. Most underground rooster fighting operations are independently operated — not by local gangs or Mexican drug cartels, Trevino said.
Cockfighting is illegal in Texas, but the rooster battles remain common along the Texas-Mexico border, Trevino said. La Blanca is about 15 miles north of the border.
The cockfighting operation uncovered as a result of the ambush featured several rings with bleachers, a concession stand, a rooster weighing room and tournament brackets that tracked the best birds, Trevino said.
"Cockfighting is a big problem in South Texas - not only in Hidalgo County but in all of South Texas," the sheriff said. "To them it's a sport, but to the state of Texas, it's a crime."
Editing by Dan Burns and Vicki Allen