CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Suspected drug hitmen burst into a high school birthday party and killed 14 people in Ciudad Juarez on Sunday, the latest massacre in one of the world’s deadliest cities.
Gunmen jumped out of sport utility vehicles and fired at the students, who were celebrating the birthday of a classmate, in a house in the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, in the early hours of Sunday.
Bodies lay on the street outside and pools of blood collected by nearby parked cars. Inside the house, the walls were stained with blood and marked with bullet holes.
“The men drove up in SUVs, they were well-armed. They went into the house and shot at everyone, you could hear the gunfire all around,” a neighbor at the scene said.
Patricia Gonzalez, attorney general for Chihuahua state that includes Ciudad Juarez, said the shooting was possibly linked to drug cartels.
“We have two lines of investigation and one of them is linked to drug trafficking,” she told a news conference. “We know from witnesses that the men arrived looking for someone.” She declined to give more details.
Over the past two years, hitmen have attacked parties in Chihuahua state, searching for rivals, and police have reported that some teenagers in Ciudad Juarez have been involved in kidnapping others.
Gonzalez said the dead included three adults and 11 minors. Fourteen others were wounded, two critically. All the victims were between 15 and 20 years old, the army said.
She denied earlier reports that the teenagers were celebrating a local sports championship victory.
“They were about 15 men, they closed off the surrounding streets and began shooting at the house as they moved inside,” said army spokesman Enrique Torres.
Ciudad Juarez is the bloodiest front in Mexico’s three-year drug war as rival cartels fight over markets and control of smuggling routes into the United States.
Violence is escalating even as federal police and soldiers patrol the streets. Some 2,650 people were killed in drug violence in Ciudad Juarez last year and cartel murders have jumped since the start of 2010.
In some of the worst attacks, gunmen have stormed at least seven drug rehabilitation clinics in the manufacturing city over the past two years, targeting rival dealers. Two strikes in September killed 28 people.
Mexico is the key transit route for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America and a top producer of marijuana and heroin.
A military crackdown on rival cartels in Mexico has fueled a surge in drug violence that has killed more than 17,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, worrying Washington and investors and scaring off tourists from some cities.
Additional reporting by Alejandro Bringas; editing by Mohammad Zargham