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4 were among several shot at crossing border

June 19, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

The investigation into Friday's shooting of a vehicle attempting to cross the border with 23 undocumented immigrants continued today while the four Mexican nationals in the vehicle were deported to Mexicali on Tuesday.

Claudia Montez Zatarain and her daughter Cindy Garza Zatarain, both of Mexicali, and Cesar Ramirez Silva and Roxana Benjamin Marroquin, both from the state of Chiapas, were deported shortly before noon Tuesday.

None of the Mexicans were injured during the shooting.

Reporters — mainly from Spanish-language television stations and newspapers — swarmed the four, who declined to give specific details regarding the shooting.

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Zatarain did say she was scared as the Chevrolet Suburban in which she and her daughter were riding was sprayed by gunfire.

"It felt scary," she said as she quickly walked into Mexicali while holding her daughter's hand, trying to get away from reporters.

Earlier reports from Mexican newspapers said a Mexican military unit had fired at the vehicle, thinking it was carrying drugs into the United States.

Zatarain said she wasn't able to see who fired at them or what kind of a vehicle the shooters were in.

The Mexican newspapers also stated the military unit had been fired upon first by at least one or maybe two load vehicles trying to cross the border, which could have sparked a gun battle.

Zatarain denied allegations anyone in the immigrants' vehicle had shot at any other vehicle.

The rest of the immigrants, 18 from El Salvador and one from Ecuador, are being held at the Immigration and Naturalization Service facility in San Diego, said El Salvador Consul Oscar Benavidez, who is based in Los Angeles.

Benavidez said the Mexican consul in San Diego told him the Salvadorians had reported it was the Mexican army who had fired at them.

Benavidez said no one from the El Salvador consul has spoken to the Salvadorian immigrants because they haven't received the authority from INS yet.

He said a representative from his office is already in San Diego expecting authorization to interview them any day.

He said of the 18 Salvadorians, three of them were wounded during the shooting.

Franklin Murcia and Jose Lazo were treated at El Centro Regional Medical Center while the third, Manuel Leonel Murcia, who is Franklin Murcia's brother, was treated in Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

Benavidez said all three were in stable condition as of Tuesday.

An article in Sunday's paper stated one of the men taken to El Centro Regional Medical was released while the other remained in the hospital.

It also stated two other men had been taken to Pioneer's Memorial Hospital where they were treated and released. Information on those two men was not available.

Benavidez said the future of the 18 Salvadorians is not known yet. He said federal courts in San Diego will decide whether to use the 18 as witnesses in the shooting. If the court decides to do so then they will be granted a temporary stay in the U.S.

If not, they will be deported back to El Salvador. Benavidez added some families of the Salvadorians, living in Los Angeles, have asked if they can pay a bail so the immigrants can be released to their care while the investigation continues, if the courts decide to us them as witnesses.

That matter will be decided by the federal courts in San Diego some time soon.

As for the Ecuadorian, information on the individual was not available.

As far as the investigation is concerned, Imperial County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Manuel Garcia said investigators are working with Mexican authorities to determine where the actual shooting took place.

The county Sheriff's Office is the agency conducting the investigation.

He said if the shooting is determined to have taken place in Mexican territory then the investigation will be conducted by Mexican authorities.

As far as the vehicle, they are still searching the suburban for any evidence that might help them determine who the shooters were.

Garcia said they have found some fragments of bullets inside the vehicle's cabin, but it is not enough to determine what kind of bullets were used by the gunmen.

Mexican authorities were not available for comment in the investigation.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

>> Adelante Editor Arturo Bojorquez contributed to this story.

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