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Town Agonizes With Family Of Abducted Drug Agent

February 19, 1985

CALEXICO, Calif. (AP) _ There’s a road in this Imperial Valley town named Camarena Street, a tribute to a hometown hero killed in the Vietnam War.

Today, the Camarena family and residents of this border town are awaiting word on the fate Enrique Camarena Salazar, the U.S. Drug Enforcement agent abducted by four armed men in Guadalajara, Mexico on Feb. 7.

″First his older brother, Eduardo, is killed in Vietnam. Now, Enrique has been kidnapped by drug smugglers,″ said Luis Legaspi, a county supervisor from Calexico.

″The family has suffered so much trauma from all of this. It is a terrible thing to have two sons lost in the line of duty for their country,″ he said.

Enrique Camarena, an 11-year veteran of the DEA, grew up in this community of 16,000 and was a Calexico policeman before joining the federal agency to help in the war on drugs.

″He came from a border area where it was not difficult to see what drugs could do to others,″ said Oscar Gonzales, a childhood friend of the missing agent.

″It may sound straight or even square to others, but he decided very early that he was going to to what he could to stop it,″ Gonzales said. ″He said he knew there were risks but that was part of the job. He felt somebody had to do it.″

Born in Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border, Enrique Camarena, 37, is a naturalized citizen. The family moved to Calexico in 1958.

″Everyone here knew him as a friend,″ Marie Mendina said of the abducted agent. ″He loved his work. What little time he had away from it, he spent with his family.″

After graduating from Calexico High School, where he played on the school fottball and basketball teams, Enrique Camarena joined the Marine Corps for a two-year stint that ended in 1970.

He then went to work for the city’s fire department but by the end of the year he was a member of the local police force.

Between shifts as an officer, he attended Imperial Valley College and received his criminology degree in 1972.

″He was very dedicated to law enforcement,″ Legaspi said. ″He was a gentle sort of person who gained the respect of others through his work and attitude.″

In November 1973, Enrique Camarena left his job as criminal investigator for the Calexico police for a year’s service with the Imperial County Narcotocs Task Force. He joined the DEA in 1974, working out of the agency’s Calexico office for three years.

He was transferred to the DEA office in Fresno, Calif., in 1977 and three years later headed south to join the agency’s enforcement team in Guadalajara.

Married and the father of three children, Enrique Camarena was due to be transferred to the San Diego area on March 11.

His family, reported to be despondent, was not available for comment. A sister, also employed by the DEA, was flown back from Turkey to be with the family.

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