He pointed to the estimated 200,000 children who grew up during the height of the violence, and the 14,000 children who lost a parent. Many more witnessed the murder of other relatives, friends, and strangers."During the drug war they [the citizens of Juárez] were constantly being traumatized," said Kathleen O'Connor, assistant professor at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) School of Nursing. "They would run across shootouts and bodies in the street. And everyone was afraid to leave their homes."Dr. O'Connor, who has published four papers examining post-traumatic stress amongst the adult inhabitants of Juárez, says she knows of no serious studies of the problem among children.
'When I grow up, I don't want to be sad. I want to be a soccer player'
While researching she heard numerous stories about murder, torture, extortion, kidnapping, and disappearances, and coined the phrase narcotrauma to explain the mental health issues they have caused. She says it is often a chronic trauma made up of multiple events over a long period of time that contrasts with the usual way of thinking of PTSD as a reaction to a single incident.
'Children who have suffered trauma will have a host of problems as adults if its not dealt with. And (the government) is basically doing nothing in that area'
"Children who have suffered trauma will have a host of problems as adults if its not dealt with," she said. "And they [the government] is basically doing nothing in that area."El Paso is divided from Juárez by a fence, a small river, and a few bridges. El Paso consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in America — a far cry from the reputation of its neighbor.From her office Doctor O'Connor can see the dangerous Felipe Ángeles barrio that sits on Juárez's western limits and is where nine-year-old David lives. The barrio's dusty roads also provide a view of the pristine UTEP campus.
That wasn't the only event that affected Diana during the drug war. Her father was killed when she was seven. She, like David, said she didn't know why, and like the younger boy talked of the lasting impact of the years of terror."I'm afraid all the time," Diana said. "I feel really unsafe. All the time, when I walk, I'm worried someone is going to kidnap me."
'I feel really unsafe. All the time when I walk, I'm worried someone is going to kidnap me'
And every day Daniela witnesses the scars of the drug war on the faces of the children in the center."I see it in the children, they reflect within themselves all the violence that there was here," she said. "They carry the consequences of everything that happened."Only 22 years old, Daniela's teenage years were marked by the murders of friends and the kidnapping of a cousin. The war left her scarred too."I'm going out a bit more now. Before I never went out, I didn't go to parties. When I was a teenager, I spent my time locked in the house because of the violence," she said, while the girls sitting beside her kept their eyes downcast. "I wouldn't even go to the movies because I was afraid they'd kidnap or kill me."
'I'm going out a bit more now. Before I never went out, I didn't go to parties. When I was a teenager, I spent my time locked in the house because of the violence'
The Mexican authorities have shown little sign that they are willing to address the lasting impact of either on the city. When Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made his first presidential visit to Juárez in January 2015, he and the governor of the state of Chihuahua, César Duarte, touted Juárez as a successful example of Mexico's fight against crime."Some cities, and Ciudad Juárez in particular, have a very different feeling than they did even two or three years ago," said Peña Nieto, enlisting the fallen murder rate in the city to underline a wider drop in the national number of homicides that has since been reversed.
Months after the president's visit, the plight of Juárez's children briefly made it onto Mexico's front pages when five kids, aged 12 to 15, tied up a six-year-old boy in a game of secuestro — kidnapping — who they then tortured and murdered."This is a state that says 'in Juárez, nothing happened'," said Catalina Castillo, the director of OPI, stressing the lack of government action and the tiny budget groups like hers can access. "They don't want to deal with the broken hearts of our children."
'They don't want to deal with the broken hearts of our children'
It was 6pm when the after school program started to empty out. Alejandro, 11, waited behind."My father died. Well, he went to work, a car came, and they shot up the van that he was in," said Alejandro. He was six years old when it happened, and said he's seen multiple strangers gunned down as well."I feel bad, sad, now. I think about it all week. I dream about him every night," he continued. What else do you dream about? "Fights, gunshots. Nothing else."
'I feel bad, sad, now. I think about it all week…Everynight, I dream about him'
Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz