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Tijuana Police Chief Remembered

February 29, 2000

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ Thousands of police officers from across northwestern Mexico packed into a funeral home early today to mourn and honor the popular Tijuana police chief who died in a barrage of bullets fired by assailants believed linked to organized crime.

Alfredo de la Torre, outfitted in his police dress blacks, lay in a wooden coffin surrounded by large flower wreaths, his folded hands holding a laminated picture of Jesus.

Relatives wept and ran their hands over the Plexiglas screen shielding his body, while colleagues vowed to avenge his death.

``We’re going to get them. You’ll see,″ said Omar Fierro Villanueva, a former personal bodyguard of de la Torre who paused several times to hold back his tears. ``We’re going to look under every rock. If the rocks can talk, we’ll make them talk.″

Under Mexican tradition, the wake was to last into this afternoon, when de la Torre’s funeral was planned.

De la Torre was driving to his office on Sunday, unaccompanied by his normal contingent of bodyguards, when gunmen using Kalashnikov rifles and 9-mm pistols pulled up alongside his black Suburban and fired 99 rounds at him, officials said. The vehicle crashed into a palm tree on the side of the road.

No one has been arrested and the motive of the killing is unknown. Seventy witnesses and potential suspects were interviewed Sunday, but police have no suspects, said state Attorney General Juan Manuel Salazar.

A gray Cherokee sports utility vehicle with California license plates may offer clues in the killing. Three bullet shells were found in the vehicle, Salazar said.

The Cherokee was believed to be one of three vehicles used in the attack on a busy, six-lane divided highway on the northern edge of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego.

Enrique Tellaeche, spokesman for the Baja California state attorney general’s office, said the killing was ``obviously linked to organized crime,″ but said it was too early to tell whether it was connected to the Tijuana-based drug organization led by the Arrellano-Felix brothers, which is notorious for its gangland-style hits.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers the organization one of the most powerful and violent drug trafficking groups. One of the brothers, Ramon Eduardo, is on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list.

One of the questions that has arisen is why de la Torre went out without his bodyguards. Salazar said de la Torre had told the guards that he planned to stay home all day. It was not known why he decided to go to his office. The chief was carrying a pistol, but didn’t use it.

De la Torre had been a police officer for 25 years, working his way up from motorcycle cop, and may have made many enemies.

``The only motive for the killing is his job,″ said Jaime Valencia, a police forensics supervisor who, like all his colleagues, wore a black band over his badge. ``A person who does his job well goes against the interests of the bad guys.″

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Monday condemned the ``cold-blooded assassination″ of de la Torre and offered to solicit FBI participation in the investigation if Mexico requested it.

``Residents on both sides of the border deplore the wave of violence that has erupted in Tijuana and other border cities,″ she said.

In a speech while visiting Baja California on Friday, President Ernesto Zedillo pledged to have federal and state officials improve cooperation.

Baja California is one of Mexico’s most violent states, and Tijuana is one of the most violent cities. It recorded 300 murders last year and the pace of killings has picked up this year.

About 55 percent of the cocaine used in the United States is shipped through Mexico or Mexican waters, according to U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey.

Mexicans say they are suffering from drug violence, especially on the border, largely because the United States has done little to reduce its consumption of illegal drugs.

``Tijuana is the victim of an activity that no one here wants,″ Salazar said.

De la Torre is the second Tijuana police chief killed in six years, and the second police chief in a border city to be killed in a week. Juan Angel Cabrera Leal, the police chief in Reynosa, was shot to death last Tuesday. Reynosa is across the border from McAllen, Texas.

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