MEXICO CITY — In a case that's shocked Mexicans, a 14-year-old youth told journalists Friday that he's a highly sought "boy assassin" who guns down and beheads people for a drug gang.
Soldiers arrested the boy, Edgar Jimenez Lugo, on Thursday night as he prepared to board a flight from Cuernavaca, a tourist destination south of the capital, to Tijuana, where he planned to cross the border to his mother's residence in the San Diego area.
The case highlights concern about the falling ages of foot soldiers in Mexico's ongoing drug violence, which has left more than 30,000 people dead since late 2006. The youth said he'd been killing already for three years.
News reports said Jimenez was a U.S. citizen, although U.S. Embassy spokesman Alex Featherstone said, "We have not confirmed this boy's citizenship."
Security agents had been hunting for Jimenez since late October, when a video was posted on the Internet of the boy, sporting a mop of frizzy hair, holding an AK-47 assault weapon and posing with other gang members. One image showed Jimenez with an apparent victim whose eyes and mouth were taped shut.
On the video, Jimenez casually says that he didn't care whether he and his fellow gunmen got the right targets, just as long as they killed someone.
"When we don't find the rivals, we kill innocent people — maybe a taxi driver or a construction worker — so that we can get paid," Jimenez said, adding that he earned $3,000 per hit. He said he'd personally killed four people.
Mexican journalists who were present when soldiers turned the youth over to prosecutors in Morelos state Friday morning peppered the boy with questions. He said that the headless corpses of his gang's victims were strung up from an overpass on a main highway leading to the capital.
"Why did you kill them?" a reporter asked, according to a transcript on the website of the respected newspaper El Universal.
" 'El Negro' ordered me to. I got high on weed and didn't know what I was doing," Jimenez responded.
"Why did you get into this?"
"I didn't get into it. They pulled me in," the boy responded.
"Are you sorry you did?"
"Yes, I'm sorry I got involved with all this," he responded.
Arrested with Jimenez were two older sisters, and news reports said that one of them, 19-year-old Elizabeth, was a lover of Hector Beltran Leyva, the leader of a splinter faction of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel that operates out of Morelos state.
News reports said the elder sister led a gang called Las Chavelas that took slain rivals of the Beltran Leyva group and dumped them on city streets.
In a later video interrogation of Jimenez, the boy said he'd been involved with drug traffickers since age 11.
President Felipe Calderon has pointed to the ever-younger ages of gunmen for the drug syndicates, especially in the northeastern border region, as a sign that cartels are facing problems recruiting foot soldiers.
Yet Mexico has an estimated 7 million young people who neither can find jobs nor attend school, and many of them are tempted by easy money or motivated to join gangs out of anger over the killing of a friend or a parent.
"We count some 20,000 orphans who have the choice of either being forgotten about or looking for some activity to help them survive," sociologist Luis Gomez Sanchez told the Milenio television network. "These youngsters are cannon fodder for drug traffickers and their illegal activities."
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