CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Assassins stormed a birthday party at a Denny’s restaurant and murdered at least four people in Ciudad Juarez, the troubled Mexican border city just miles from El Paso, Texas.
Video of the brazen June 16 morning attack showed two gunmen chasing one of the victims as they attempted to flee the breakfast restaurant, then returning to a group of already injured people in a nearby booth and shooting them again at point-blank range.
A three-vehicle convoy reportedly arrived at the restaurant at around 11:15 a.m., although only the two assassins left the vehicles. After the hit, the gunmen returned to the vehicles and escaped.
“I was having lunch with my girlfriend when we heard like ten gunshots,” Aaron, a 33-year-old man who was at the shooting, told VICE World News and asked for only his first name to be used. “First two and then more. We jumped to the floor and hid under the tables. People were screaming but it all happened like in 15 seconds.”
The Chihuahua state attorney general’s office released a statement saying that two men and two women were killed in the attack, and a fifth was injured. Authorities announced they were looking for the hitmen and their vehicles.
Little is known about the victims, although local media named one as Maura Fabiola Cadena Luna who reportedly worked as a hairstylist in Juarez. It was reportedly Cadena Luna’s birthday celebration when the hit took place.
Authorities reportedly arrested Cadena Luna in 2014 after police found her in a car with three men and a weapon. One of the men arrested with her at the time was named as Silvano Débora Simental, aka El Dorado, who allegedly was a member of a Chihuahua-based organized crime group called La Linea. El Dorado died in a gangland hit at a bar later in 2014.
The other victims of the Denny’s attack have only been identified by their first names and surname initials: Alan Enrique M.V., Manuel Alejandro G.R., and Judith R.L.
The morning assassination in broad daylight brings back memories of the bloodiest time in Juarez, when it ranked as the world’s deadliest city for multiple years between 2009 and 2011. During that period 300,000 people fled the border city and around 50 percent of the city’s restaurants and 18 percent of Juarez’s bars closed.
“We are afraid again to go out,” said Aaron, the survivor of this week’s shooting. “When Juarez was at its worst, it felt like this. A lot of paranoia everywhere you go.”
Juarez saw an improvement in the years following as violence decreased and businesses and people returned, a dynamic mostly credited to the Sinaloa cartel wresting control of the city from its rivals and maintaining its hold. But the murders never stopped, and the city has seen a rise in violence since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to office in December 2018.
López Obrador has instituted a less hardline approach towards attacking violence since he took office in 2018, but has failed to diminish the country’s staggering death toll.
The most recent murders yesterday put Juarez’s June death toll at 51 just over halfway through the month, according to El Paso NBC Affiliate KTSM.
This story has been updated to include reporting from the scene.