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U.S. families feel sting of Mexico's drug violence

  • Story Highlights
  • Marisella Molinar, a secretary, was killed nearly a mile from her U.S. home
  • Husband: "She wasn't involved, she didn't have anything to do with this!"
  • More than 1,600 deaths in Juarez last year, 400 already this year
  • Cartels have killed cops, forced police chief to resign, threatened public officials
  • Next Article in World »
By Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer
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JUAREZ, Mexico (CNN) -- Jose Molinar knew something wasn't right. He hadn't heard from his wife for a few hours, which was not sitting well with him.

In Juarez, Mexico, 1,600 people were killed in 2008, three times more than the most murderous city in the U.S.

Marisella Molinar was killed while driving her boss, a target of cartels, across the border into El Paso, Texas.

Marisella Molinar worked as a secretary for a top prosecutor in Juarez, Mexico, Jesus Huerta Yedra. She was employed in the office for more than 10 years and though she lived across the border in El Paso, Texas, with her husband, she drove about 20 minutes over the Juarez-El Paso border every day to the job she loved.

The growing violence over rival drug cartels had concerned the couple, but Mexico was a part of their lives and they were sure the violence stayed between rival drug gangs, who were fighting over a lucrative drug route into the United States.

Without fail, Marisella Molinar would call her husband every day when she arrived to work, went out for lunch and when she was leaving the office.

But on December 3, 2008, by around 5:30 p.m., Jose Molinar still hadn't heard from his wife. He called the office in Mexico and was told she was giving her boss a ride over the border so he could do some Christmas shopping. Jose Molinar turned on his television, and his life changed forever.

"As soon as the image came up, I saw her truck," said Molinar, who was watching the news out of Juarez, "and I knew what happened right then and there." Video Watch Jose Molinar talk about the moment he knew his wife was killed »

Marisella Molinar was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her passenger, Jesus Huerta Yedra, was a target of the cartels that day. As Molinar's car was about a mile away from the border crossing back to the United States, gunmen walked up to her car and fired 85 rounds from an AK-47 into their intended target. One shot hit Marisella Molinar, a mother of two and proud grandmother, in the chest, killing her instantly.

"She wasn't involved, she didn't have anything to do with this!" said Jose Molinar in a recent interview with CNN. "She was the guy's secretary and she was giving him a ride to meet his wife here in El Paso who was Christmas shopping."

But instead of making it home to help her husband hang Christmas lights, Marisella Molinar became yet another victim in the drug war taking place just steps from the U.S. border.

The violence generated by the war of the drug cartels for control of drug routes translated last year into some 6,000 killings. More than 1,600 of them occurred in Juarez, three times more than the most murderous city in the United States. This year, in two months, the body count in Juarez is 400.

Mexican military and police in riot gear now patrol the once popular streets of Juarez. Gone are the Americans shopping, dining and partying. The bars and restaurants are shuttered -- many closed for good. Americans don't come here anymore.

In March 2008, the Mexican military joined with Mexican states and local law enforcement in the fight against drug cartels in border cities. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has waged a war against business as usual with the cartels who controlled drug routes through Mexico and into the United States. The fallout has led rival drug gangs to launch all-out war not only with the military, but also with each other, because the once-established drug routes are now up for grabs.

The violence has been the worst in Juarez, where cartels have killed police officers, forced the chief of police to resign and threatened public officials.

"They started killing police officers, and not when they were doing police work, but when they were coming out of their homes and getting into their cars to go to the police station," said Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, whose own family has recently received death threats.

At the city's only morgue, bodies are piling up. The mayor said there are far too many dead for the small facility to handle. The majority of the dead are unidentified members of the cartels. Just last week, the mayor said, 50 corpses were buried in mass graves because no one claimed the bodies.

Officials from both sides of the border said the drug war may go on for years. Beheadings, bodies riddled with gunfire and blood-stained streets will continue daily, they said.

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They added that the appetite for illegal drugs is too great in the United States, and the drug routes are too lucrative for the battles to end.

"It's not going to be won quickly," said Enrique Torres, a spokesman for the Mexican government, adding that the Mexican president is committed to fighting the cartels. "He can't talk about a time frame in this type of situation. We know the monster is big, but we don't have an idea of how big it is."

All About Ciudad JuarezMexicoEl PasoDrug TraffickingFelipe Calderon

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