Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shootout in Matamoros

Shootout sparks tension at shops

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Downtown shoppers and business owners were shaken — and law enforcement remained on alert — on Saturday, a day after a shootout in Mexico ricocheted into Brownsville.

"We feel fear because we don’t know who they are or what’s going on," said Maria Theresa Rodriguez, a Harlingen resident shopping for flip-flops on E. Washington Street.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College reported that a bullet from the Matamoros shootout on Friday hit the campus Recreation, Education and Kineseology Center and another bullet hit a car parked on campus.

The shooting began at around 1:30 p.m. near Calle Primera and Calle Canales and neighbors in the area told The Brownsville Herald they heard gunshots and loud explosions for more than an hour.

The shooting was said to have continued to the intersection of Calle Nicaragua and Calle Acapulco in Colonia Delicias.

The Mexican Army declined to comment about the shooting or whether there were any injuries.

A Mexican news agency, Milenio Online, reported that the attorney general of the Republic of Mexico told them that there were people detained during the confrontation between the military and armed men.

"When anything like this happens we increase our security around the bridges," Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said on Saturday. "This happened pretty close to the Gateway International Bridge, so we have to increase our vigilance in that area."

The U.S. Border Patrol said that agents were "remaining vigilant."

"No one in Border Patrol was shot at," said John Lopez, public affairs officer for the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Border Patrol.

"Our Border Patrol agents are careful because there can be cross border fire," Lopez said. "We continue to remain vigilant in the area considering there is a dangerous situation in our neighboring country, Mexico."

The U.S. government obviously was concerned about the shootout. Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection working at the Gateway International Bridge were wearing body armor on Saturday morning.

The Brownsville Police Department said the regular patrol schedule would not be changed on Saturday.

"We’re just advising our patrol officers to stay on their toes," said Lt. Perry Pepin.

UTB-TSC closed the campus on Friday at 5 p.m. and cancelled classes until Tuesday, Sept. 8.

"Due to a shooting incident on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River and to the lateness of the day, the campus will be closing early. Employees and students are encouraged to leave the campus and to please avoid the University Boulevard area," the school Friday posted on its Web site.

On Saturday, shoppers continued to visit Brownsville’s historic downtown, which edges against the Rio Grande.

At OK Trading, a downtown retail outlet, owner Steve Cho said the shooting had disturbed him and his customers.

"It’s something we worry about because it’s so close by," Cho said. "If there’s something happening over there, it blocks them from the bridge, and our clients won’t come here."

Many of Cho’s customers buy items at his store to sell in Mexico.

"One of my customers was driving home when he was caught in the middle of a (another) shootout," Cho said. "People who used to come here twice a week to buy items now come only once every two weeks."

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