View Full Version : Marine shot to death in Juárez

08-30-05, 06:39 AM
Marine shot to death in Juárez
Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times

A U.S. Marine recruiter from El Paso who served two tours in Iraq was shot and killed early Monday morning during a roadway dispute in Juárez.

Sgt. Heber Villagran, 23, was leaving a nightclub in the ProNaF tourist area with other Marines before 2 a.m. when an argument began with a group of men inside a sport utility vehicle that blocked their path while walking, Chihuahua state investigators and Marine officials said.

A beer bottle was thrown at the vehicle, whose front-seat passenger then fired multiple shots toward Villagran, a state police spokeswoman said. Juárez police said they found five shells from a .40-caliber handgun. An investigation continues.

It was unlikely Villagran threw the bottle because he was known for being friendly and very responsible, said his relatives, who gathered Monday evening outside his parent's South-Central El Paso apartment decorated with a U.S. flag on the window.

"He was the type of guy to walk away from something. He had seen a lot worse," brother-in-law Gilbert Gay said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Villagran was a 2000 graduate of Jefferson High School, where he excelled in Junior ROTC, his family said. Upon graduation, he joined the Marine Corps. He worked as a mechanic at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was deployed to Iraq at the start of the war and then again last year, completing his second stint in December.

"It's different than when he was in Iraq. In Iraq, you sort of expected something," said Villagran's sister Cruz Rosales, 24, while displaying a photo of her only brother in the Iraqi desert. "You would think over there (in Iraq) it's dangerous. And over here (in Juárez), it's probably worse."

"He was a real good Marine," said Capt. John McCalmont of the Marine recruiting headquarters in Albuquerque. In April, Villagran was assigned to the Marine recruiting office in West El Paso, McCalmont said. The office was closed Monday.

"He liked everything about the Marines," Rosales said. "He wanted to recruit for the Marines because he knew the Marines were a good thing."

Villagran is survived by his parents and an older and a younger sister. He is the fourth El Paso-area resident killed in Juárez this year.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com; 546-6102.

El Paso Times reporter Tammy Fonce-Olivas contributed to this story.


08-31-05, 06:29 AM
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Inquiry into death of Marine hits snag
Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times

JUAREZ -- The Chihuahua state attorney general described Monday's fatal shooting of a U.S. Marine recruiter and Iraq war veteran as a "savage" act, while acknowledging that the investigation has faced some difficulty.

Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez said Sgt. Heber Villagran, 23, was an innocent victim of random violence early Monday morning, when the El Pasoan was shot after a dispute with men in a sport utility vehicle as Villagran and other Marines left Chamucos nightclub.

"This could happen to any of us coming out of nightclub at that time of night. ... It was a barbaric act," Gonzalez said at a press conference Tuesday.

Gonzalez confirmed that the FBI and El Paso police are serving as advisers and that U.S. military criminal investigators were invited to review the investigation, portrayed by Juárez news media as politically sensitive because of Villagran's military status.

Neither the type of SUV nor the assailants have been identified despite outdoor police security cameras in the ProNaF tourist zone, where the shooting occurred, Gonzalez said. Police were also at a nearby nightclub on a separate call at the time.

"Unfortunately, that camera (which would have recorded the shooting) was pointing almost to the sky," Gonzalez said. "If that camera had been functioning perfectly, we would have had the information on the vehicle."

State investigators today were scheduled to re-interview Villagran's friends to get a description of the vehicle and shooter.

Villagran was shot five times with a .40-caliber handgun when he and three companions exchanged words with men in an SUV that blocked their path as they tried to walk across the street, investigators said. One of Villagran's companions threw a bottle at the SUV and a passenger then opened fire.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com; 546-6102.


09-01-05, 06:56 AM
Thursday, September 1, 2005
Slaying stirs issue of safety in Juárez
Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times

The fatal shooting of a U.S. Marine in a tourist area of Juárez has raised concerns about safety in the city hoping to increase tourism from El Paso's growing military community.

Sgt. Heber Villagran, 23, was shot by a man in a sport utility vehicle in a roadway dispute when Villagran and other Marines tried to cross a street as they left Chamucos nightclub early Monday in the ProNaF area, authorities said. An investigation continues.

Funeral services for the Iraq war veteran begin today with visitation from 5 to 9 p.m. and a vigil at 7 p.m. at Sunset Funeral Home East, 750 N. Carolina, his obituary said. A Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 1050 N. Clark.

Villagran was a Marine recruiter in West El Paso who, unlike Fort Bliss soldiers, did not need permission to go into Juárez, said Capt. John McCalmont of the Marine Corps recruiting headquarters in Albuquerque. "The general rule is they go with a fellow buddy, another Marine," McCalmont said.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said soldiers must get permission from their commander to go to Mexico. How often permission was granted was unknown. "It is not that we do not want them to go to Juárez," she said. "We are asking where they are going for accountability."

Juárez government and business leaders are concerned about the Villagran case, said José Contreras, Juárez Chamber of Commerce vice president for international relations. The city is looking to increase police protection in tourist areas, he added.

"We do want our tourists protected and for them to feel safe when they visit Juárez. This is one of those things that happen," he said. "These crazy people with a gun, my God. They will have to be arrested."

The deadly shooting came a month after a U.S. State Department memo cautioned visitors about violence in Mexican border cities, including Juárez.

"While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities are generally not targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk from the increase in violence in the streets of border cities ... ," the July 26 document stated. "U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns ... and exercise common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas of border towns during daylight hours."

El Paso police have a liaison in contact with Mexican authorities.

Anyone with information on the Villagran shooting may anonymously call Crime Stoppers of El Paso at 566-8477.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com; 546-6102.