PROGRESO, Mexico (AP) — Mexico's navy said Wednesday that its personnel had no idea they had killed the leader of the country's most-feared drug cartel until after his body was stolen from a funeral home in this border town.
The death of Zetas cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias "El Lazca," in a gunfight with marines Sunday left a wake of fear in the small mining and farming towns that dot the northern plains of Coahuila state.
Residents of Progreso said they heard a series of three loud explosions Sunday, apparently from the grenades that Lazcano reportedly fired at marines who were pursuing him.
But most people refused to talk or said they weren't at the baseball field near where Lazcano died of gunshot wounds. Those that acknowledged hearing the explosions said they ran into their homes and stayed inside.
It was unclear why Lazcano was at the baseball field. A game between Progreso and a neighboring town was in progress, but the area around the field is also one of only two spots in town with reliable cellphone service.
It is clear why this area was attractive for the Zetas, the brutal cartel that Lazcano helped found after deserting from Mexico's army. Progreso has had no municipal police force since January, because local officers refused to submit to the background checks and vetting that are now required of police.
"We have issued public invitations to see if people want to join the police, but nobody shows up," state police officer Manuel Hernandez Mireles said. A few state officers now provide the only security in the town.
In Progreso, an elderly shopkeeper who didn't want to give her name for fear of reprisals said drug cartel gunmen have been hanging around the town for three or four years, apparently drawn by the area's isolation and the absence of police.
"This town is abandoned, in all the senses of the word. That's why those people come here," the shopkeeper said.