Women of Juarez

An eight-part series about survivors in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a community that has lost hundreds of women to unsolved murders in the past decade.  Originally published in the Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), in 2004.

Since at least 1993, hundreds of women have been killed in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, turning a city that once thrived with the pulse of industry into a killing ground.

The goal of this eight-part series is simple: to tell the story of the women of Ciudad Juárez through the eyes of the survivors, giving voice to those who have been silenced. The Register set out to show how the serial killings have transformed a border community whose factories produce U.S. goods and draw hundreds of workers from throughout Mexico and Central America.

Each story represents a different segment of society touched by the killings. Today’s story focuses on a teenage girl who was killed.

Her story shows the void left when a vibrant young woman disappears from a family and a community.

She Never Came Home

At times, it's as if Eréndira Ponce is still alive.

The 17-year-old girl keeps invading her father's thoughts, chasing away sleep in the dark of night. She sings, mimicking her favorite singers, Shakira and Gloria Trevi. She jokes with her family, placing a cigarette on each of her eyelids, holding them in place with her long eyelashes. She tells her father how much she loves him.

These are the happy memories Federico Ponce tries to focus on, but then other, more sinister thoughts overtake him.

He imagines the brutal way his daughter was killed. He thinks of the five years that have passed since Eréndira died. Five years of standing outside government offices demanding that law enforcement investigate. Five years of waiting for her killer to be arrested. Five years of nothing.

Rage builds inside him until he can no longer stand it. He gets out of bed, pulls on his cowboy boots and grabs a large kitchen knife. He wants to go after the man he believes killed his daughter, a man the authorities investigated but never arrested.

"I can find him, probably in a bar drinking," he thinks.

Then, he remembers his other children. He knows what he wants to do isn't right. And he realizes he's not going anywhere. He puts the knife back.

He returns to bed.

He will wait for justice, like all the other relatives of the hundreds of women who have disappeared or been killed in this city in the past decade.

Federico is strong in the way that I imagine a man with eight children must be. He has no reason to expect justice, but he refuses to be a man without hope.

This is what impresses me about Juárez. It is a city whose people refuse to let their spirit be tamed by the violence that's claimed so many lives.

Their courage keeps me going during my six-week stay in Juárez, where death is all around me. I've come to write about the women whose lives have been transformed by the series of killings plaguing the city since at least 1993.

I feel silly fearing for my safety in a place I briefly called home as a child. Still, it's hard not to live with fear in a city where so many women have been killed. I lock my car as soon as I get in, avoid driving alone at night, and give my hotel room number to few people. Then, I do as everyone else in the city and go about my work.

I first learn about 17-year-old Eréndira Ivonne Ponce Hernández in my search for a diarist among the hundreds of women killed, someone whose words could represent the lost hopes and dreams of all the slain women. I was certain one kept a journal, relaying her hopes and fears in her own words.

Eréndira did.

Scribbling in her spiral-bound notebook, the young woman confided her hopes for a comfortable house to live in, a man to marry and a baby to love.

Instead, Eréndira went to work one day and didn't come home. Twelve days later, she was found dead at the foot of a mountain, her underwear around her knees. She had been raped and beaten, her skull bashed in with a rock.

Her family laid her to rest near the U.S. border in the Garden of Memories cemetery, not far from the grave of another 17-year-old girl, a church choir singer who was strangled and stabbed a few months earlier.

Today, a lone metal cross marks Eréndira's grave. A simple cross for a girl I learn was anything but simple.

The gravesite, on a hill overlooking the stern, bland face of this desert city, is a desolate place.

The relentless heat beats down on Federico and me when we visit one Saturday. It is 90 degrees even though it's not yet 10 a.m. We are sweating by the time we make our way past dozens of rows of graves decorated with bright plastic flowers.

The cemetery is empty except for us and a crew digging graves. The dry ground crunches with each step we take. The cracked earth swallows the water Federico brought in a jug to freshen his daughter's grave, releasing the familiar smell of a rainy day.

Federico doesn't cry. In a calm voice, he tells me about Eréndira. She was one of his youngest, one of his babies.

The last time he saw her, she kissed him before they parted.

"Take care, mi'ja."

"Yes, Dad."

Federico presses his hand to his cheek, remembering her kiss and her voice. It is heart-breaking getting to know Federico and the rest of Eréndira's family. I am eager to know about her, and they are willing to tell her story with all its tragic details.

"The key to knowing who I'll marry is the person who gives me a rose and who dances with me to 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' or rather, all my favorite songs."
Eréndira's journal, August 1998

At first, Rosario wants nothing to do with me. She has learned that sometimes it is easier to make it through the day if she doesn't relive painful memories.

She rushes inside when I come to the neighborhood to visit one of her sons, Fernando, who lives next door with his wife, Lourdes, one of Eréndira's childhood friends. Rosario invites me into her home only after she notices the hours I spend talking to the others.

"I'm her mother after all," she says. "If you're going to write about Eréndira, then you must talk to me."

With her youngest daughter, 17-year-old Brianda, at her side, Rosario sits in her kitchen with me. As the stories spill out, I begin piecing together Eréndira's short life with the bits I've gathered from others.

We start with Leonel.

At 16, Eréndira has a crush on the fair-skinned boy with light eyes. She has a soft spot for boys like that, especially if their eyes are blue, so different from her own dark eyes and skin.

When Jaime comes along, Eréndira is smitten. He, too, is fair and has blue eyes. And he wants to be her boyfriend.

She falls hard for him.

One day, she comes to her friend Lourdes in tears. "You know what? I'm pregnant."

She decides not to tell Jaime, convinced he would drop his college plans to marry her.

She doesn't tell her mom, either, even though two of her older sisters got pregnant before getting married.

Rosario doesn't need anyone to tell her. She knew, as only a mother can, that Eréndira's sisters were pregnant before they said anything. Each time, she asked. Together, tearfully, they made plans for a new baby.

Eréndira doesn't give her the chance. She confides to Lourdes and Brianda that she got an abortion after a teacher told her a baby would spoil a good future.

Her secret might have been safe from her mother, except that Eréndira begins complaining of pain in her abdomen. In their tiny home, there's no way for Eréndira to hide the stretch marks on her belly and periods two or three times a month.

Rosario confronts Eréndira.

"Why did you abort? We would have supported you."

Eréndira denies the pregnancy and abortion.

"We would never throw you out," Rosario insists.

Still, Eréndira refuses to tell her anything.

Rosario is at a loss for what to do about this growing chasm between them. She had always been proud of how Eréndira lived up to her name, which means "always smiling." Not long ago, she had trouble getting her to quiet down.

Some evenings, Eréndira sat on cement blocks stacked as high as a wall outside her house, with a guitar in hand, singing loudly.

"Eréndira! People are going to think you're crazy!"

"Ah, I don't care! I'm in my own home and can do what I want."

Rosario has long worried how her children would be affected by her separation from their father. She and Federico split up when Eréndira was 8, differences tearing them apart after 11 children and more than their share of problems. The deaths of two babies. Federico's long absences during trips to the United States for work.

Rosario took the children and moved to Colonia Villa Esperanza in the outskirts of the city, where land was plentiful, affordable and a peaceful respite from the hundreds of factories dotting the city.

But the separation means Rosario has to spend more time away from her children to work. Often, she takes jobs at maquiladoras, assembling parts at foreign-owned factories like RCA. The jobs and commutes to the city take 12 hours a day, sometimes more.

Even so, she tries to be a good mother, dispensing advice and attending parent-teacher conferences.

She remembers Eréndira singing for her in front of the entire school during a Mother's Day celebration. Only those students with the best voices were chosen.

Rosario was so proud listening to her daughter singing "Las Mañanitas" and a Guadalupe Pineda song: "I love you. I love you."

Now, Eréndira says very little to her mom. Her remorse for the abortion grows.

"What would the baby look like?" she asks her friends.

Finally, unable to bear the guilt and heartbreak, Eréndira attempts to commit suicide by taking some pills, but the pills aren't enough. All they do is make her throw up.

Her mother knows something is wrong. Again, Rosario begs her daughter to talk to her. She wraps her arms around Eréndira, slowly patting her head as she tells her how much she loves her, how scared she is for her.

Together, they cry.

One day, Eréndira says she wants to leave Juárez.

"But why, Eréndira? If we don't have any problems with anyone," Rosario responds.

"I just don't like being here anymore."

With Rosario and the older children working, there is enough money to supply basic necessities such as food, electricity and indoor plumbing.

But there isn't much left over for the luxuries Eréndira dreams about. Her reality is far from the romantic, tender world she thinks about as she listens to her favorite songs on the radio.

Eréndira's life on the southern fringes of Ciudad Juárez seems as barren to her as the brown landscape surrounding her home.

"Clothes I need: Strappy blouses, black, white, green, dark blue, brown, beige, red. Short skirts, black, dark blue, brown, beige, white, sky blue, mixed. Long dresses ..."
Eréndira's journal, 1998

Araceli Montes is surprised to see me when I come calling one afternoon.

She rubs the sleep from her puffy eyes, apologizing that her hair is a tangled mop. She works the graveyard shift at a maquiladora, so she sleeps during the day.

It has been a long time since someone has come wanting to know about Eréndira, her best friend at school. Already, like many young women her age in Juárez, Araceli is a working mother. She looks tired, temporary wrinkles from her pillow embedded in her face, making her look older than her 22 years.

It's an image that haunts me for weeks. I imagine this might have been Eréndira's life. I've come to Araceli knowing that a girl's best friend knows things about her that no one else does.

Araceli smiles thinking back on their school days.

She sees Eréndira sitting in the back of the classroom, cracking jokes. Instead of hitting the books, Eréndira hangs out with friends, gossiping about boys and clothes.

One day, a teacher tells her she can be anything she wants. All she needs to do is study. He will help her.

Eréndira is flattered. She likes the way he talks, in a direct and proper manner.

Jose Luis Franco is a history teacher at State School No. 8358, an educated man who is admired for his skill in weaving facts into stories that drill his lessons home.

Until now, Eréndira has had fantasies about becoming a singer and somehow getting out of here. She wants to help the family she so adores and have a closet full of clothes. But Eréndira isn't sure how she's going to earn the money to buy a dress, much less help her family. Her teacher's offer seems like a way out.

Jose Luis also offers to pay for other students' textbooks, helping the poorest students stay in school.

Two of Eréndira's closest friends turn down the offer. Lourdes and Araceli are suspicious and feel uncomfortable around him.

They don't like it when he touches them on the shoulder. They hear stories about him taking young girls to motels. They feel his eyes on their legs so they avoid wearing skirts.

"Eréndira, don't get involved with him," Araceli tells her. "He's a strange man."

Eréndira wants to become a secretary, but her parents can't afford the classes.

"He's a good person."

"You're wrong, Eréndira."

Eréndira doesn't listen.

Her friendship with her teacher turns into a part-time job, first at a school cafeteria he manages, then at a car wash, and finally, as a secretary for a recycling business Jose Luis runs out of his home.

By then, she's quit school and taken a second job working the graveyard shift at a maquiladora.

For two months, she goes to work at the Howe factory, cutting leather for $35 a week. In the mornings, tired and sleepy, she heads to work at the recycling business.

Already suspicious of the teacher, her sisters begin asking questions, insinuating that the teacher might be interested in her as more than an employee.

Rosario implies there is something improper about her daughter's relationship with Jose Luis, but Eréndira screams in protest.

"No! No! That's not true," she says, falling to the floor, flailing her arms and legs. She pulls at her hair until her mother stops questioning her.

To Araceli and Lourdes, Eréndira confesses that she's in love with Jose Luis. She tells them he has promised to marry her and take her to Chihuahua to live with him.

Lourdes is disgusted.

"Why would you want to be with him? He's so old, and he has a paunch."

Eréndira says she loves him and quits her factory job.

On Saturday, Aug. 8, 1998, Eréndira shows up at her best friend's house in a panic.

She tells Araceli she no longer wants to work with her former teacher. In tears, she says she's found a stash of photos of naked dead women. She is frightened and doesn't know what to do.

"I think you need to get out of there. If you don't, something will happen to you."

What Araceli says about this teacher confirms what others have said. Eréndira's friends and family believe the relationship with Jose Luis went far beyond mentoring.

But to the point of murder?

The family thinks so. They believe he's gotten away with it all these years because he has buddies in high levels of the state government.

Old newspaper clips say Jose Luis was the lead suspect for a time as the last known person to have seen Eréndira alive.

Law-enforcement officials tell me their investigation on this case is active and they have a suspect. As a matter of fact, I'm told, they were ready to arrest the suspect until the state Attorney General asked them to build a stronger case. I don't know what to believe, but I know I must talk to Jose Luis Franco.

Long retired from his teaching career, Jose Luis works for the state government. He invites me into his office when I tell him I want to talk about Eréndira.

His hair is mostly gray, and his cheeks are giving way to the gravity of time. I begin by asking basic questions about Eréndira, her writing abilities and her job with him. Then, I move on to more difficult ones.

Did he ever touch any of his students on the legs or other inappropriate places? No.

Were he and Eréndira intimate?

Of course not, he says.

His hands play with the items on his desk and he smokes one cigarette after another as he tells me there was never anything improper about his relationship with any of his students. He says he is saddened by Eréndira's death, that it's painful to be named a suspect in her killing, but that he understands everyone can be a suspect in the early stages of an investigation.

I ask about his political affiliations. He mentions a group of teachers he joined once and nothing more.

I am getting ready to leave, when suddenly a woman walks into his office.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't know you had a visitor," she tells Jose Luis as she sees me and quickly walks out.

I sit, frozen, as I realize who she is. It is Suly Ponce, who, despite her last name, is not related to Eréndira's family. She was in charge of the investigation into Eréndira's death and now heads the department where Jose Luis works.

Why is Jose Luis working for her? Isn't it odd to work for the person who once interrogated him in connection with a killing? Does it speak to his innocence or does he really have friends in the government?

My mind reels with questions, but Jose Luis is vague about what he does for the government, even what his title is.

I walk away not knowing what I want to know. In Mexico, government officials don't have to abide by the same public-disclosure laws as in the United States.

As usual, there are too many questions and no adequate answers.

"She was found naked, face down with her hands tied behind her back and a blow to the left side of the head. Victim had black, wavy shoulder-length hair. In the same place, authorities found a blue-green flowered dress."
Case No. 171, Aug. 31, 1998

The little cement house is tucked below a hill in Colonia Lopez Mateos, where young men play soccer outside until dusk and the faithful gather at a storefront evangelical church to pray on weeknights.

This is where Eréndira moved two weeks before she was killed, hoping that being closer to the city would make her happier.

This is where I find Gloria Ponce five years after her sister's death, still using Eréndira's Winnie the Pooh lamp to light her bedroom.

She tells me about the day Eréndira came home to show her a new dress. The knee- length cotton dress stamped with tulips shows off Eréndira's shapely legs and slim waist.

But the fabric is an unpleasant shade of blue, almost gray, a color Gloria thinks is too gloomy for a 17-year-old girl.

"Oh, Eréndira, that color is too morbid! It's an ugly dress."

Eréndira doesn't care. She loves dark colors, even if her friends make fun of her.

She bought the dress with her earnings. It's a symbol of her newfound independence, one of many outfits she plans to buy.

Eréndira twirls and dances for her older sister in the small house where they live with their brother Fernando.

"Look how good it looks on me!"

Eréndira seems happy at times, but her family begins noticing a sudden preoccupation with death.

"What would I look like dead, lying in a ditch?" she asks Gloria.

To her younger sister Brianda: "You're going to do my makeup when I die."

"You're crazy," Brianda responds.

"C'mon, do my makeup. I'm going to look real pretty when I die."

Eréndira writes an even more detailed account of her life. She makes lists of everything from her favorite songs to the names of her siblings.

Under the heading "What I eat," she records even the water she drinks. One day's entry reads: "8:30 1 cup of orange juice, 2:15 1 cup of chocolate ice cream, 4:50 1 glass of soda, potato chips, 1 glass of soda, 6:45 1 glass of soda, 2 chunks of chicken with lettuce salad and tomato, 4 roasted chilies, mayonnaise."

A few days later, on Aug. 18, Eréndira leaves her house shortly before 10 a.m. wearing her new tulip-pattern dress.

She plans to quit her job and get a copy of her birth certificate so she can get a visa to work in the United States. She and Gloria hope to get jobs at a factory in El Paso. Juárez has plenty of maquiladoras, but none pay as well as those across the border.

"May things go well for you today," Gloria tells her sister, as she does every morning. "May God help you. Be careful."

Eréndira doesn't come home that night. Or the next day. Her family takes to the streets, looking for her friends and schoolmates. They hope one of them will know where she is.

No one does.

Eréndira's mother, Rosario, is scared. Young women have been disappearing from Juárez. Many are turning up dead, a couple not too far from their home.

"Don't worry. She probably just ran off with her boyfriend," Rosario recalls investigators telling her when she reports her daughter missing.

Eréndira's boyfriend says the two broke up months before. He doesn't know anything about her disappearance. Eréndira's family is unable to rest, eat or sleep.

On the 12th day, investigators summon Gloria to the morgue. They've found another body.

The young woman with dark, wavy hair was found with her hands tied behind her back with a purse strap, an elastic bandage and a shoelace. She was lying face down near the road out of town.

Gloria and her brother Fernando arrive at the morgue, their hearts clinging to hope. They know that Eréndira dreamed of life beyond Juárez.

Maybe she went to Guadalajara like she told a friend.

Maybe she ran off with a boyfriend no one knew about.

Maybe she's still alive.

Investigators aren't sure how long the body they found has been in the sandy ditch. Rain, animals and 100-degree August heat make the task of identifying the woman even harder.

Her face and much of her body are disfigured.

But the flowered dress is unmistakable.

Gloria flashes back to the day Eréndira first modeled the dress for her, picturing her sister dancing and twirling in their home. She can hear Eréndira's laughter bouncing across the room as she faints.

"I'm going to take a walk, and although the city is very big, I think we're going to find each other."
Eréndira's favorite song, "Same As Yesterday" by Enanitos Verdes

The family is afraid.

They believe authorities are angry because family members have said publicly that investigators failed to go after Eréndira's killer.

For five years, they wait.

One day, investigators come knocking on Rosario's door.

Brianda, the youngest of the Ponce children, opens the door. Investigators want the family's copy of the police file. They tell her it's the only complete version, that the files from former investigators are missing key testimony and evidence.

Brianda is torn.

She has spent hours poring over the file, searching for clues to her sister's killing. She says she's seen signed statements from people with evidence against the teacher.

She has studied the autopsy shots, inspecting up close her sister's hands, recognizing Eréndira's trademark pearly white nail polish. The tips of the nails are square just like Eréndira liked them. Her sister's teeth are just how she remembers them, perfectly aligned, with only one cavity.

She doesn't want to give up the file. It's all the family has left. But the investigators are persuasive. "We're close to an arrest," they tell her.

She gives them the file.

Right away, she regrets it. The little evidence they had is gone. The little they had left of Eréndira is gone. Their trust in law enforcement torn to shreds, they continue to hope for an arrest that now seems impossible.

Brianda thinks about her own future. She is the same age as Eréndira was when she was killed. She likes school and wants to continue her education past high school. She tells me she knows it's the only way she can ever leave the colonia.

Still, this is Juárez, and she is scared. I look at her, examining her features, trying not to see the obvious.

She fits the profile. Pretty, young, slim and poor.

Soon, it will be time for her to go to school, and she'll have to go into town, where young women just like her continue to disappear, to turn up dead.

Driven to Find Answers

She agonizes over her decision long after she's made it.

Continue the door-to-door search for the missing 13-year-old girl, or call it off? This is the kind of dilemma Angela Talavera Lozoya knew she'd face when she took the top job in this homicide unit. Years of law-enforcement experience have helped prepare her for this. Still, if she's wrong, a young woman could die.

"You're always unsure. You want to exhaust every lead, make sure you do everything you can to find her alive," Angela says.

At work, she spends hours poring over the material that she and her investigators have gathered since Perla Guzman disappeared. At home, questions and doubts about the case plague Angela.

Today is Day 8 since Perla was reported missing. Each hour, each day, in the initial stages of someone going missing is crucial.

Angela emerges from her office wearing a body-skimming dress, her hair the color of rust. The 29-year-old is 5 feet 9 inches tall without her trademark high heels. She smiles frequently and easily, even in the midst of crises. She is young and friendly, traits that I hadn't expected to find in someone with her responsibilities and reputation.

I'm here to document the stories of the women caught in the wave of violence in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Women who have lost their lives. Women fighting injustice. Women with power.

Angela's title is simple but carries enormous responsibility: She is a fiscal, or prosecutor. She runs the state's Special Prosecution Unit for Women's Homicides.

Here in Ciudad Juárez, where the daily headlines blare the latest on the hundreds of slain and missing women of the city, her job is anything but easy. Everywhere I go, the people of Juárez speak of the ineptitude of local authorities, years of mistakes and incompetence staining the office's reputation despite some improvements.

In this city, many women can't help but constantly look over their shoulders, resigned to walking around with more than the usual apprehension of living in a big city.

Campaigns warn women to avoid walking alone at night. Some factories provide buses for their employees. And hundreds of federal police officers have been dispatched to help patrol the city.

But the need to go out and earn a living can open a woman to danger, despite precautions and safety measures.

I wonder how the women of Juárez, who typically don't have the luxury of access to a car, cope with their reality. Do they push aside their fears to get on with life? Do they simply not dwell on the dangers of their drug-torn city?

Even Angela, a single mother of a 5-year-old boy, confesses to feeling vulnerable. If anything, her job makes her all too aware that it's a place where violence goes hand in hand with a thriving drug trade, a place where driving home takes on an even more ominous cast.

"At that point, I'm just a woman driving alone late at night," says Angela, whose staff of about 30 is mostly men. "But really, you can't worry about this. I've always figured that when it's your time to die, it's your time."


I meet Angela by chance.

My first contact in her office is Manuel Esparza, the official spokesman for the Special Prosecution Unit for Women's Homicides. To get to Angela, I must speak to him.

At 7 p.m. on a Friday, one of those rare times when the department is quiet, I arrive at the brick building next to the state prison in Juárez. Manuel meets me in the empty reception area and leads me to his office just as a colleague is locking her door.

It's Angela. She smiles warmly, then she's off.

I'm left with Manuel, who gets interview requests from the foreign media almost daily. He answers several of my questions before I ask them, reeling off statistics and information like a contestant on a game show.

He bristles, his green eyes flashing with anger, as he deflects public criticism that the office has too many unsolved cases. He says an FBI toll-free number, which can be reached from Mexico, has failed to garner tips of any value.

"Scotland Yard could be here, but if the people of Juárez don't come forward, we can't solve the crimes without witnesses."

It turns out Manuel, 32, is no mere spokesman. He and Angela together manage the office, he tells me. He is the prosecution coordinator, a title that merits mention on the department's glass window, just below Angela's name. Because Angela doesn't speak fluent English and he does, he's the main liaison with the FBI and other foreign investigators.

His buzz cut and cherub cheeks accentuate his youth, which he proudly notes. He and Angela, Manuel tells me, are part of a new crop of department heads in government throughout Mexico.

Manuel seems eager to talk about old cases unrelated to the possible serial killings, but brushes away my request to interview Angela. It is out of the question. All department information comes from him.

I persist, explaining that Angela's story will help me understand the inner workings of their office and explain the challenges that their workers face.

Manuel phones her. "Angela, what are you doing Monday morning? I have the reporter from California here who wants to talk to you. I'll explain the whole mess to you later."

I knew Manuel would be a hurdle to overcome to get to Angela, but I'm surprised that he has the power to put me on her agenda so easily.

It's the first indication I get that Angela might not make all the decisions in her office.


Angela reschedules my original appointment with her, and a week passes before we sit down to talk.

When I arrive, Manuel is standing in her office, a cramped room that barely holds a large desk, a bookcase and a couple of filing cabinets. Angela seems not to mind, and he remains standing behind my chair for a few minutes as I begin asking questions. But he finally leaves, allowing me time alone with Angela.

At first, Angela's responses are short as she recites her career experience almost in monotone. I move on to more personal questions, trying to learn about the life of the woman in charge of this massive investigation.

To my amazement, she agrees to meet with me over a period of several weeks when I tell her I will need interviews with her and the people close to her.

"Whatever I can help with," she says. "You'll just have to be patient with my schedule."

We start talking about how she came to head the unit investigating the most notorious serial killings in Mexico.

Young women were already disappearing in the city of Juárez in 1993 when Angela joined the Attorney General's Office. The entry-level office job was a natural for the 20-year-old law student.

She tells me that, little by little, she began making her way up the ranks until she became an investigator. She took on tough cases that required her to tackle suspects, eventually landing a job in the auto-theft division. She was the only female agent in a unit with 30 men, but that didn't bother her. After all, she says, she was the only girl growing up in a family with three younger brothers.

Angela laughs. "My brothers used to jokingly call me 'stepmom' because I was always scolding them."

To my surprise, Angela then reveals her unplanned pregnancy early in her career.

She tells me that for the first time in her life, she didn't know what to do. She was in love, but her boyfriend refused to stick around for a baby.

She had yet to finish school, and her career was taking off. Angela wondered how a child would fit into her plans.

But her parents, determined that she finish law school, stepped in, offering to help care for the baby.

"What do you do," Angela says, "but have faith in God and move forward."

We've been talking for more than two hours, so I offer to continue the interview later, but Angela settles comfortably in her chair and tells me she's enjoying talking about things few know about her.

So we continue retracing her journey to the top.

In 2002, she was surprised when her bosses named her one of three nominees to lead the unit investigating female homicides. She was stunned when she was chosen.

Never one to make hasty decisions, Angela analyzed the job offer. The state government created the Special Prosecution Unit for Women's Homicides in February 1998, in response to growing clamor over serial killings.

The woman to head the office had to be someone sensitive enough to treat the mothers with kindness and respect. Someone steely enough to withstand constant criticism.

From the beginning, the office has been a punching bag for everyone from politicians to Amnesty International.

In six years, the top job has been held by seven women, who answer to the governor on one hand and to the public on the other. As the number of cases and public furor have grown, the grinding demands of the job have worn down many. The last woman in the post lasted three months. Only one person, Suly Ponce, lasted more than a year.

The challenge intrigued Angela, so she took the job.

As soon as word got out that Angela was the new prosecutor, the criticism began, and it hasn't stopped.

She's too young. She's not experienced enough. She's another puppet manipulated by the state attorney general and the governor.

"I often get criticized, but few of those critics have ever met me," she says. Victoria Caraveo, whose criticism of the Mexican government helped create Angela's office, says it has been a failure. Victoria is a wealthy attorney who last year agreed to take over the government's Instituto Chihuahuense de la Mujer (Chihuahua Institute for Women) in Juárez, but she tells me she rarely deals with Angela.

I find this strange, given that both are high-profile wo- men supposedly working toward the same goal. Then Victoria says that she considers Angela a figurehead in an office where the spokesman often takes center stage.

Angela does not dwell on the criticism of community leaders, who would prefer a human-rights specialist with more experience.

"If they find a woman who meets all the criteria, they shouldn't put her in here," Angela says. "They should make her governor."


Angela took this job hoping her hometown would one day again be known for plentiful jobs, not for abductions and slayings.

The latest case bears a grim resemblance to others where searches were fruitless. Perla is pretty and slim with long dark hair, just like other missing young women who have turned up dead.

Angela's office receives up to 80 cases a month of missing women. Nine out of 10 turn out to be young women who ran off with their boyfriends.

But Perla's case instantly stands out, particularly because she disappeared from the same neighborhood as other young women who were killed. The Kansas teen, who was visiting family, was on her way to church when she disappeared. Her parents say she is a devout Christian who does not have a boyfriend.

Angela has barely rested since she began investigating.

Despite her promise, she's not available for more interviews and won't let me talk to her family.

On this August afternoon, I've been waiting for her nearly three hours, despite having an appointment, when Angela finally comes out of her office. She sighs and tells me she's had no more than four hours sleep at a time in the past week.

Searching for Perla adds to an already hectic schedule.

This is the week that Angela's office joins forces with federal investigators to solve the killings of the women. The much-anticipated state and national collaboration means a ceremonial ribbon-cutting that Angela cannot skip.

She's also had to drive several times to a forensic conference nearly four hours away.

To top it off, Perla has disappeared during one of the hottest summers on record.

Angela and investigators comb through neighborhoods with fliers of the missing teen on days when triple-digit temperatures make their clothes stick to them like Saran wrap. So Angela's days are filled with long commutes, lack of sleep and meals on the run. This schedule would test anyone's endurance, even more that of a single mother whose job is always under the magnifying glass.

Each new case raises questions in the media about state investigators. Are they doing enough? Did they wait too long to start the search? Do they know what they're doing?

Each case is burdened by widespread suspicion that government officials know the identities of the killers but are protecting them. Otherwise, many wonder, why would so many young women have been slain with only one man convicted of murder in connection with the serial killings?

As we talk, I scrutinize Angela's face for signs of fatigue. Her makeup is impeccable. Her clothes, short-sleeved in this hot weather, are neatly pressed. Her eyes, clear and steady, do not betray her lack of sleep. This is one of those times, I think, when her youth is clearly an advantage.

She tells me that being a woman helps. She imagines the agony of the mothers who come before her. She can't picture life without her son. This is what drives her.

On days when the criticism becomes too much to bear, she allows the tears to fall when she goes home.

"What am I doing?" she asks herself, thinking of the sacrifices she's made. She has no boyfriend. One day, she'd like to have another child, but for now, she's resigned to a life without romance.

Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice has been time not spent with her son, who calls her "police mom." Angela takes him to school in the mornings, but often gets home too late to tuck him into bed.

She allows herself a few moments of self-pity, then remembers the mothers and begins poring over case files again.

Again, she considers what they know about Perla. She skims the thick file that she and her agents have compiled. She goes over the questions they have asked her parents. Did they scold her before she disappeared? Are there family problems? With each passing day, the parents have revealed important new details.

Perla's life was regulated by the family's religion, which forbade her from wearing pants. Perla had taken her ID with her.

Finally, relatives reveal that they have gotten a call from a woman who says she's the mother of Perla's boyfriend. It appears Perla might have run off to another part of Mexico with a boyfriend no one knew about.

Angela is amazed that, after all the searching and hand- wringing, Perla has turned out to be another misguided young woman who thinks love will solve her problems.

She is angry to think of all the resources spent on Perla. Still, Angela says, the possibility that a missing woman could turn up dead is too great to ignore any case that comes before her.

The phone rings.

It's a call from the office of Mexican President Vicente Fox requesting details on cases from 1993 until now. Angela explains that the office hasn't consistently maintained statistics as it has changed hands. She promises to compile what information she can.

In a country where nearly everything is political, Angela knows her job is at the whim of the attorney general and the governor. One day, when they decide, she will no longer have this job.

Meanwhile, there is much for her to do.

She turns back to her work, consumed with missing girls, the mothers left grieving and the killers running loose in the city.

Clinging to Their Faith

Miriam Garcia paces, her dark eyes scanning the busy boulevard for the bus that will take her downtown.

I know better than to think this is all she's looking for.

For Miriam, danger lurks in every sport utility vehicle with tinted windows, every Nissan sedan, every car that slows near us on this busy corner near her house. Any one of those vehicles could carry her attacker.

That's how they've come for her in the past when she's been beaten and threatened with death, she tells me. I have no way of knowing whether this is true, whether this really is the price she carries for defending her husband against accusations that he's one of several serial killers targeting women in Ciudad Juárez.

What I do know is that Miriam will never turn her back on her husband, even if it means getting killed. She's so sure of his innocence.

I'm grateful to have this solid piece of knowledge, because truth has seemed elusive since I arrived in this city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to report on the serial killings.

Miriam looks over her shoulder, and I look over mine, too. Two seconds later, we do so again. And again and again.

This is a middle-class neighborhood, but it's hard not to get caught up in this state of hyper-vigilance. It seems almost anyone who publicly questions the government's investigation lives this way.

I've been cautioned that my phone might be tapped, that I might be followed, and that I should be careful when I go out alone. Despite my skepticism, these warnings are given with such seriousness and furtive glances that, while standing with Miriam, I half expect a gunman to drive by and spray the street with bullets.

Finally, the bus arrives.

Miriam scrambles into the bus. She's safe for now.

This is the way life has been ever since her husband became a suspect.


Miriam Garcia Lara has told this story dozens of times.

Fresh tears fall each time she relives that night in November 2001, but, she tells me, she wants people to know the truth of what happens in Juárez.

Slowly, she begins talking about the night when her life changed.

Darkness has long shrouded the city when Miriam tells her husband, Victor Javier Garcia Uribe, she wants to go home.

"Let's go, I'm tired."

She enjoys showing off their newborn to Javier's parents, but she's still recovering from a Caesarean section.

Little Melissa is their miracle baby. Their second one.

Soon after they married in 1995, Miriam and Javier talked about having a baby. Word from the doctors was discouraging. Miriam couldn't conceive because of injuries she suffered in a bus accident years earlier.

But Javier was persistent.

"We know what the doctors say," he told Miriam, "but we don't know what God has to say about this."

Within a year, Gabriel was born. He was their first miracle baby. Three years later, Melissa made their family complete.

Then police began rounding up bus drivers. Young women were being raped and killed in Juárez. The bodies of eight young women were found in an abandoned cotton field. Never had so many women been found at once. All of Juárez was clamoring for the killers to be found.

Authorities said the city's bus drivers were involved in the crimes. Specifically, the young drivers on the route that Miriam's father and husband had driven for several years.

One bus driver, nicknamed "El Tolteca" ("The Toltec"), was imprisoned on suspicion of killing several women.

Authorities believed that The Toltec paid other bus drivers to kill women. Javier was taken in for questioning and told investigators that he knew The Toltec, just as he knew other drivers, but insisted they weren't close. After a brief interrogation, Javier was released.

"I don't know what's happening, but God is going to help us," Javier told Miriam.

Days passed, and no charges were filed.

As Miriam and Javier are returning home from their visit to his parents, two men with hoods over their heads suddenly rush toward Javier.

"Are you Victor Javier Garcia? You're going to die!"

Several other men, their faces covered with Halloween masks, surround Javier.

Miriam, 4-foot-11, tries to help her husband while clutching the baby, but the men point their guns at her and 5-year-old Gabriel.

Her screams beckon Miriam's father, a burly man who runs from his house 100 yards away. The men point their guns at him. They have Miriam by her hair as her father yells for them to leave Miriam and the kids alone.

Miriam hugs her baby to her, as her father wraps her in his arms and the masked men take Javier into a car.

"No! No! No! Don't take him!" Miriam screams.

Miriam fears her husband is the victim of a levantón, one of the kidnappings that plague this border city as the drug trade spreads its ugly claws.

Still, she doesn't dismiss the possibility that the masked men who came for Javier were law-enforcement authorities, who have been known to make arrests in plain clothes or without properly identifying themselves.

For three days, Miriam searches for Javier in hospitals, jails and police stations.

Two days later, she flips on the TV and sees Javier. All of Juárez is talking about this, but, still, she can't believe it. Stunned, she watches her husband confess to killing the eight young women, naming each by first and last name. A fellow bus driver, Gustavo Gonzalez Meza, does the same.

Right away, she's suspicious. Would a killer take the time to find out his victim's full name?

The next day, her husband and Gustavo denounce authorities, saying the confessions were beaten out of them.

Miriam pauses her story to dig through a large pile of papers and newspapers until she finds what she wants to show me. I examine copies of photos taken by a doctor at the prison, showing the men's dejected faces and burns on their chests, legs, arms and genital areas.

At the time, law-enforcement officials accused the bus drivers of inflicting the wounds on themselves. The judge hearing the allegations of torture declared that the men's legs were swollen not from beatings, but from varicose veins. He said their wrists were injured by tight watchbands. And he accepted medical- exam results from another doctor who said the men were fine.

In the end, the judge accepted criminal charges accusing Javier and Gustavo of raping and killing eight women.

Miriam doesn't know what to do next, and she doesn't know when she'll see her husband again.

She's sure of only two things. Her husband is not guilty. And she will never abandon him.


At times, I think of Miriam's life as a tragic love story.

She tells me about their romance as we sit in her living room, once home to a growing family but now empty most of the time because Miriam is afraid to be home alone.

The love that she describes with her husband is the kind we all dream about.

It was Javier's friendship and old-fashioned values that attracted Miriam. Javier didn't have much money, schooling or good looks, but Miriam didn't care despite her own college education.

"I don't have money to take you to nice places, but everything I give you is with all my heart," Javier told her.

They began to attend church regularly and pray every day, faith strengthening their relationship.

They had been dating only six months when fate tested their love.

Miriam was riding the bus one day when it crashed.

She was paralyzed, and doctors told her that she would likely never walk again. Javier stayed by her, even moving in with her parents so he could help care for her.

She was so weak that she couldn't hold a glass, but he would hold it for her while she drank. He also drove her to physical therapy and fed her.

Miriam tried to push aside her dreams of a big wedding.

"Go away! I've nothing to offer you. You need to go find another woman," she told him.

"No, I love you and I'm staying here with you."

When her faith wavered, he was there to bolster it.

"We have a God, and he's here for us."

Javier fasted in the mornings, cried and prayed for her to recuperate.

Slowly, she did. This was their first miracle.

Miriam was still in a wheelchair, her neck in a brace, when she and Javier said their wedding vows on Nov. 25, 1995, at the First Church of the Nazarene. When they posed for their wedding photos, he helped remove her neck brace, lifted her from her chair and held her steady against him.

Miriam's father invited his son-in-law to join him driving buses, a job that he had taken when he relocated to Juárez from Mexico City after the 1985 earthquake.

Javier was more than Miriam ever hoped for in a husband. He helped her with the wash, attracting curious glances from neighbors not used to seeing a man hanging the laundry. He understood when Miriam didn't feel like cooking, phoning to see if he should get take-out on his way home.

"When I'm old, are you going to take care of me?" he asked her one day.

"If you're not too whiny, yes," she joked. "Because if you are, then I'll have to send you outside to sleep with the dogs. And you? Are you going to take care of me?"

"Of course I will."

It's been more than two years since Javier was taken away, but the living room remains the same as when he lived here. Family photos adorn the black lacquer entertainment center and folk-art flowers brighten a cabinet.

I get up to go.

Miriam plumps the pillows and takes a quick look around to make sure everything is in place before leaving the house. She still hopes each day will be the day she gets word that he's coming home.


Miriam's campaign to clear Javier's name takes most of her time. She writes letters, organizes petition drives and stages news conferences.

To feed her children, she relies on the generosity of her parents and friends. She tries to get a job, but she says most employers refuse to hire her for fear of offending authorities. Still, she presses on.

It gets harder in January 2002, when her husband and the other imprisoned bus driver are transferred to the city of Chihuahua, a five-hour bus ride away.

Visits to the prison and her campaign to free Javier take a toll. Her children see her for a few hours each day, sometimes not at all. She stops going to church regularly.

One day, her pastor pulls her aside.

"You know, Miriam, ultimately, you have to leave justice in God's hands. Don't ignore your kids. They need you more than ever."

Miriam begins spending more time with her kids. On hot days, she takes them to the pool, trying to forget for a few hours that Javier is in prison. She begins relying more on her church friends, attending prayer sessions with them.

Still, she continues her campaign to free her husband.

One day as she walks home, two men attack her. As they punch her, they tell her it will be worse if she doesn't stop "making noise." It's a message "from the governor," they say.

She tells me it's the first of three beatings.

Another time, she's preparing banners for a march when the phone rings.

"Stop it or we're going to kill you. You'll never see your husband again, only when he's dead," a male caller says.

This time, she stays home.

The next day, when Miriam arrives at the prison, she hears a rumor that a prisoner was killed overnight.

"Oh no! They've killed Javier!" she thinks.

Weeping, she asks the guards, "Who? Who was it?" They tell her that Gustavo, the other detained bus driver, died after surgery for appendicitis.

Miriam hears from other inmates that Gustavo appeared healthy when he returned from surgery. They tell her that, in the middle of the night, he was beaten in his cell.

She thinks of Gustavo's attorney, who was killed a few months earlier. State police say they shot him after he fired at them first, but his relatives say he was talking on the cell phone to his dad and driving when he was shot.

Miriam documents her case for human-rights agencies, which successfully lobby for round-the-clock house checks by police.

Prosecutors have never wavered in their case against Javier, producing witnesses who say they saw him near the field where the women's bodies were dumped. They say Javier is not the model husband Miriam has portrayed, and that they have a strong case.

In July 2003, the governor of Chihuahua, Mexico's secretary of the interior and other federal officials come to Juárez for a news conference to announce a new security plan.

Miriam's petite frame allows her to nudge her way past the dozens of security guards. As she does so, the mother of a slain woman begins shouting and is dragged away by security.

With everyone's attention on the commotion, Miriam runs to the front and begins shouting at Chihuahua Gov. Patricio Martinez.

"I chose you as governor. Please listen to me!"

The throng of photographers, TV cameramen and reporters surround her. "My husband is going to get killed if you don't do anything."

The governor doesn't look at her.

"All I ask for is one piece of evidence! Just one piece of evidence!" she says.

Miriam jumps on a chair with her banner, but government aides and security guards push toward her. An aide tells security, "This cannot get in the papers."

The commotion earns her a brief meeting with Secretary of the Interior Santiago Creel, a presidential hopeful, who promises to get Miriam and her family more security and transfer Javier to Juárez.

The next day, three women are found dead, victims of suspected drug trafficking. One is named Miriam Garcia.

Both stories make headlines throughout Mexico.

The phone rings constantly with Miriam's relatives calling to see if she's OK.

"They're going to kill you!" Miriam's mother screams at her. "Why did you do that? Why did you have to confront the governor that way?"

Gabriel, now 7, overhears.

"I'm going with you or you're not going anywhere," he tells Miriam.

Gabriel dreams about Javier returning. So does Miriam.

"He'll come home soon," Miriam tells him.

Sometimes, she reads Javier's letters: "I'm praying every morning and every night. Before I go to bed, I kiss your photograph. I have a lot of faith in God that we'll be together again soon, and this time it will be so that we'll never again be separated. Take care of my little angels."

To visit her husband, Miriam begs for money, mostly from other bus drivers. Usually, she begins her visit on Saturday nights, when about a dozen women line up, sometimes undergoing body searches for the right to a conjugal visit.

On those nights, she and Javier cling to each other in the darkness, talking.

They worry that the guards might come for Javier in the night, to take him away forever. They decide that Miriam should not resist. They think it will be easier.

Miriam thinks of how her life has changed since her husband was arrested.

"They made a mistake. I think the prosecutor picked my husband thinking he was some dumb guy, and they never thought how much I love him, how I will never abandon him."

In February, when Javier is moved to the Juárez prison, Miriam visits him the same night.

Then, she continues to wait.

Miriam's health deteriorates as she continues to battle state authorities, and she is hospitalized for severe gastritis.

At times, when her faith wavers, she thinks of Javier in his cell. She gets up early to pray. Then, she cleans her small house. She dusts, wipes their framed wedding photo and washes the dishes. She gets the house ready.

Javier is getting out soon. She knows this in her heart.

She'll wait for a miracle. It will happen one day, just like the others.

The Struggle to Go On

Long ago, Irma Monreal set her sights on Ciudad Juárez.

She'd leave behind the days when her children cried with hunger, she'd find a steady job with steady pay, and she'd build a home for her family.

Juárez was the answer. She knew it. She left her farming village of Rancho Grande, Zacatecas, 14 years ago, went back for her children two years later and never looked back.

Until now.

Now, she's haunted by her decision. Now, she wonders, would her sweet daughter Esmeralda have lived if they had never come to this border town?

She'll never know the answer.

I learn quickly that if what you seek are answers, Juárez is not the place to find them.

It's a city with many stories, but few have the courage to tell them. It's a city where girls like Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, 15, vanish, but few speak up for them.

Like other mothers who have lost their daughters in the past decade, Irma has struggled against the forces that have torn her family.

Government officials attack the women's reputations: They are prostitutes, they dress provocatively, they shouldn't be out after dark.

Investigators withhold details of Esmeralda's case and can't explain the inconsistencies Irma finds.

And most painful is the void left by Esmeralda, who brought music and laughter into a home now filled with an overwhelming sense of loss.

Irma is one of those with the courage to speak, so I come to Juárez to understand how a mother survives the loss of her child.

I arrive in this city of roughly 1.3 million with apprehension built up over months of research. My senses are on alert as I head down the main thoroughfare, Paseo Triunfo de la Republica, in this city known for its missing women.

Everywhere I walk, the streets are filled with women on their way to school or work, followed by catcalls from men in cars.

Even as I drive in Irma's colonia, I see men hanging out on the street staring at the young girls as if the sidewalks are fashion runways.

Old tires litter driveways of homes built of cinder block and cement. Many are half finished, duct tape covering doorknob holes, and door frames gaping like missing front teeth.

Irma's house doesn't have a fancy iron fence like her neighbor's, but it's sturdy.

We sit in her kitchen, a tiny space that Irma has brightened by painting the walls an aquamarine that reminds me of Easter eggs.

Her eyes are the first thing that strike me.

They are deep brown like her children's, and kind like a mother's, but there is something else. She carries pain in those dark pools, a pain so deep it seems nothing can rescue her.


Irma's memories carry me into the past, to a time when a short encounter by the roadside was enough to make a mother happy.

From afar, Irma can spot her daughter's thin frame coming down the street that leads to their home in Colonia Granjas de Chapultepec.

Even through the dust stirred up by cars on the rocky road, a mother knows when her child is near.

They pass as Irma rounds the corner near their house, Esmeralda heading to school or work and Irma returning from her graveyard shift.

Their brief encounter brightens the walk along the road lined with chain-link fences and factories.

Esmeralda chuckles.

"Ay Mamí, poor thing. You're falling asleep, right?"

"Are you off, mi'ja?"

"Yes, Mamí."

"Be careful mi'ja ... May God help you."

A few days a week Esmeralda cleans houses. It's a job she begged her mom to let her take to pay for her quinceañera, a rite of passage for Mexican girls on their 15th birthday.

Esmeralda knows her mom can't afford the celebration, so she offers to work during her school break.

Irma worries about her daughter traveling across the city alone. She doesn't even feel safe in her own home, which has been broken into several times.

In the end, she gives her permission because Esmeralda will be working for Irma's former boss.

I understand why she let Esmeralda take the job. After just a month in Juárez, I feel safer, familiarity allowing me to move with more ease.

I've memorized the locations of the gas marts, the grocery chains, the malls. I've learned shortcuts around the city, the best times to wash at the coin laundry.

I don't think twice about heading out at night to follow a parade. And I find myself eager to return to the "safety" of Juárez after a bomb threat prevents me from getting cash at Wells Fargo in El Paso, Texas.

Like most mothers, Irma knew that danger lurked in the city, and she warned Esmeralda to be careful, not to talk to strangers.

She never imagined her daughter would end up in the news reports about the missing girls she used to watch with such pity.

"I'd say, 'Poor girls, their poor moms.'"

Now, she realizes how little she understood their pain.


It's Sunday evening, Oct. 28, 2001, and Irma stands in the bedroom doorway and says goodbye to her children as she leaves for work. Esmeralda is playing with her brother and sister in their room.

Irma works the graveyard shift in a Juárez maquiladora (factory) making frames for computers and televisions.

Seeing how hard her mother works, Esmeralda's ambition is to rescue her family from poverty.

She loves typing and dreams of becoming an executive secretary.

One day, she says, she'll earn enough to replace their dirt floors with cement, to build a fence, to buy a stove.

Irma works the overnight shift so that she can tend to her family by day.

Three of Irma's seven children are grown and married, but at home the single mother has Erick, 7; Zulema, 11; Esmeralda, 15; and Benigno, 16.

Irma separated from her first husband shortly after Esmeralda was born. After the failure of her second relationship, with Erick and Zulema's father, she resolved to support her family on her own.

Working seven days a week is just a fact of life.

All seems normal the next morning on Irma's walk home from the bus, until she fails to spot her daughter's trim figure. She pushes away her worries, thinking that Esmeralda must have left early for work.

But Esmeralda never comes home.


The next morning, when her children tell her that Esmeralda never returned from work, Irma begins frantically searching.

She can't eat, she can't sleep, and she loses 15 pounds in eight days.

On the ninth day Irma learns at work that the bodies of eight women have been found in an abandoned cotton field.

She goes to the morgue, where investigators show her a bra, a pair of white socks, a blouse - all they found with the body they think may be her daughter's.

The blouse is Esmeralda's. It's tiny and made of Lycra with a rainbow of colors. It's ripped and soaked with blood and something that looks like oil.

The socks are dirty and have lost their elastic, as if someone, Irma imagines, dragged Esmeralda through the mud.

Investigators tell Irma she can't see the body until she obtains a permit from the attorney general's office. So she returns home and breaks down, the images of the clothes haunting her. Her oldest children get the permit and identify the body so Irma won't have to.

The body, her children tell her, is bloated and purple, with the flesh above the neck missing; even the hair is gone. Just the skull remains.

This image plagues Irma. She doesn't understand how in nine days her daughter's head could have decomposed so.

It is fall, so it hasn't been hot, and the body was found under a shady tree in the cotton field. Investigators say animals ate the flesh, but there are no other bites on the body.

In this field where cotton once bloomed, all I find nearly two years later are remnants - yellowed weeds, broken branches and wisps of cotton in the dirt.

Death lingers everywhere. In the waterless channel, filled with empty bottles and discarded newspapers, yellow crime-scene tape and wooden sticks still mark the spot where bodies were found.

Standing at attention for motorists to see are crosses that commemorate the eight girls.

Their mothers painted them pink, bright as the expectations the day their daughters were born. In black, the color of death, their names: Laura Ber enice, Lupita, Esmeralda, Veronica, Claudia Ivette, Brenda, Barbara, unknown.

Questions about her daughter's death overwhelm Irma. She can't help wondering whether the body at the morgue is really Esmeralda.

Despite her doubts, Irma arranges for a funeral. She can't bear the thought of leaving the body at the morgue.

"If it's my daughter, OK, and if it's not, it doesn't matter. It doesn't hurt me to bury a body that doesn't have a family to claim her."

Sixteen days after authorities discovered the dead women, Irma buries the body using the money Esmeralda had saved for her quinceañera.


In many ways Irma's spirit died the day her daughter disappeared.

The people who took Esmeralda "ended her dreams, all our plans. And, well, nobody can remedy that. There's nothing we can do," Irma says.

Not even the arrest of two bus drivers, who are charged with murdering Esmeralda and the seven other young women, comforts Irma. She's convinced they aren't guilty, that they're merely scapegoats.

For days after Esmeralda's funeral, Irma wants nothing more than to lay her tired body next to her daughter's and close her eyes forever.

On one of those days Irma asks for permission to leave work early.

It's 5 a.m. as her bus pulls away from her factory and makes its way through the dark streets of Juárez.

She plans to swallow a bottle of antidepressant pills. First, she wants to see her children one last time. When she arrives home, her two youngest are sleeping peacefully.

She's exhausted, worn down and worn out by pain and tears.

Memories of her daughter swirl through her mind every day only to drain to the same, inevitable conclusion. Esmeralda is gone forever.

In her grief, suicide seems somehow logical. Peaceful. The only way.

Until she sees Erick and Zulema breathing softly in and out. Suddenly, she's racked with worry.

Who will they turn to when they need help? Who will take care of them?

She closes the door behind her. No, she can't kill herself, Irma decides.

Not today.


I take out my camera and peer through the lens at the dirt road in front of me. I wonder how much strength it must take for Irma to travel down the path where she and Esmeralda greeted each other every day.

As I snap photos, boys loitering on the corner whistle, asking me to take their picture. I ignore them, hoping they'll leave, but they continue heckling.

Is this how they badger 15- year-old girls who come home from school? Girls like Esmeralda?

The road seems sacred to me, not a place where boys should bother girls, but a place where Irma can find comfort in her memories.

For months, when she returns from work, she can't sleep and spends the day awake, sometimes standing in her doorway imagining Esmeralda heading up the hill to the corner store.

Because she feels powerless, she co-founds a support group for grieving mothers and organizes protests and marches.

The mothers learn that to be an activist in Juárez and challenge authorities has its consequences. One is followed, another is beaten in a shopping center, and some are harassed by early-morning phone threats.

It's hard to know whom to trust in a city where many believe the police are protecting the killers.

Frustrated with the lack of results, Irma quits the group.

A lifelong Catholic, she loses her faith, thinking that if God exists he wouldn't have let Esmeralda die.

She visits the cotton field looking for something to tell her it was Esmeralda's body. She finds nothing and soon stops going.

Other days she awakes awash in sadness and flips through her photo albums, crying all day.

Nothing matters to her. Until the day she's shaken out of her stupor by another shock.


Once talkative, Zulema becomes withdrawn and rebellious. Her grades drop, as do Erick's. She stops dancing and singing around the house as she did with Esmeralda.

Erick cries for Esmeralda, but Irma, wrapped in her own pain, doesn't notice.

One day, four months after the burial, Irma arrives home and discovers Zulema and Erick have overdosed on her bottle of tranquilizers.

"(Zulema) said we had to take it because we had to go with Esmeralda," Erick says.

Irma rushes them to the hospital. Erick recovers quickly because he vomits most of the drug, but Zulema spends three days at home in bed.

All they wanted was to be with their sister. Irma understands, but explains why suicide is not the answer.

"To go with Esmeralda, God has to call us when he decides, and that's when we'll see her."

Irma realizes how much her children need her and how selfish she's been.

"They felt alone. They felt the only one who mattered to me was Esmeralda."

When I ask what keeps her going, she answers without pause that it's her children.

She supports four of her children and a grandchild on her salary, which increases to $77 a week when she leaves the maquiladora to cook in a restaurant.

With so many mouths to feed, there are days when her refrigerator doesn't hold an egg or a tortilla.

Yet whenever she doesn't have the will to get up, she remembers the words of her church counselor: They ended your daughter's life; don't let them end yours.


How Irma would love to say that with each day the pain gets easier, but it doesn't.

Every time another corpse is found in the desert, she relives the pain that seared her heart when she learned her daughter's body was found.

When news reports surfaced about organ traffickers kidnapping young women, Irma asked herself: Did they take Esmeralda's eyes? Did they throw something on her face to disintegrate the evidence?

When authorities say women have no business being out at night, she steams.

"Of course you have to be out on the streets. Thousands of young girls, older women, all ages work in the maquiladoras, and why? Because we need to work, and we work the schedules that allow us to spend time with our families."

With her counselor she works on restoring her faith.

"I have started to believe that God does exist and that if things happen it's because there are people with bad intentions. Sometimes God can't handle everything," Irma says.

At night, visions of her daughter keep her awake and wondering. She sees Esmeralda's blouse, bloodied and ripped. She pictures the bloated body, the exposed skull.

The blouse, the socks, the bra are Esmeralda's, but is she alive somewhere? Irma can't help but hope.

"Sometimes that's what helps keep me going, knowing that one day I'll see her. That my daughter will appear."

Yet as much as her heart clings to this hope, Irma knows - as a mother knows when her daughter is near - that she and Esmeralda will never cross paths again.

"It's very sad, very painful," Irma says. "But sometimes that's the way it has to be.

Young Life Thrown Off Course

From afar, his figure is slight, with barely enough meat to hold up his baggy clothes, but that doesn't stop him from sauntering down the roads of his neighborhood with the cool indifference of a street king.

If you look hard, you'll see traces of the boy who once had a reason to smile.

The brown eyes, the wide mouth, the ample cheekbones are the same. It's the way he looks at the world that's different now.

Gone are the blond hair and the mischievous gleam in his eyes. His hair has grown dark, and he keeps it shaved close to his head. And, from beneath a red bandana wrapped around his head, his eyes simmer with anger and suspicion.

Hands stuffed in his pockets, he saunters into his great-aunt's patio without a glance at his grandmother's house, where I sit in the driveway.

I sigh and get up, knowing what awaits me. I make my way past the abandoned cars, step over the car seat that serves as porch chair and greet him.

He scowls.

It's not easy getting to know Angel Atayde Arce.

His eyes glower, especially as I prod him with questions. He's suspicious of the media, and wonders why I want to spend time with him.

He's mad at the world, and who can blame him?

If someone ripped away the person you loved most, who loved you no matter what, what would you do?

Angel's mother, Silvia Arce Atayde, vanished after work on March 11, 1998 - in an instant becoming part of the living nightmare that's enveloped this city of roughly 1.3 million.

It's not this chain of disappearances, however, but the story of the children left behind that brings me to her son.

Angel has chosen to do everything his mother would have forbidden if she hadn't disappeared.

He started doing drugs, then moved on to dealing them. He joined a gang, then became one of its leaders. He dropped out of school and fathered a child.

On this quiet summer day, he's sullen and distant, answering my questions with a "yes" or "no," until I tell him that I visited his sister, Esmeralda, who lives eight hours away by bus in Jimenez, Chihuahua.

I ask if he wants to see the photos, and he goes through them, sitting atop a junk car. For a moment his face softens, and he smiles.

Few things dissolve Angel's hardened heart. Esmeralda and his little brother, Esteban, are two of them.

I leave him a short stack of pictures to keep, and as I drive away, he's still sitting atop the car, hunched over, like an old man in his 15-year-old body.

I stop at the corner grocery store for cool water. It's one of those sticky summer days when the hot wind coats you with a layer of grime.

In a patch of dirt next to the sidewalk, I notice a baby corn stalk fighting for space with a wilted juniper.

Both need water. Both need care. But in this parched stretch of Chihuahua, Mother Nature isn't always so generous with her children.


On another afternoon, Angel and I sit down to talk in his grandmother Eva's darkened living room, where the curtains are drawn to ward off the heat. He usually doesn't talk much about his past, not even to his friends, Angel tells me.

He'd rather bear the pain and not talk about that horrible day when he realized that love alone was not enough to bring a mother home.

Anxious and worried, 10 year old Angel hurried home the minute school let out that cold March afternoon.

His heart raced with anticipation, hoping for good news, hoping that his mother had been found safe and that she would be there waiting when he walked through the door.

Angel's father, Octavio Atayde, had desperately searched for Silvia all day, calling friends and revisiting the site where she was last seen: getting into a car outside the nightclub where she worked.

When Angel stepped through the front door after school, his father's crestfallen eyes told him everything. His mom had not come home.

"I felt like I was suffocating because I sensed something, but I didn't know what it was," Angel tells me, in the slurred drawl of a boxer who's been hit too many times.

Life as the Atayde Arce children knew it ended that day. Despite a massive search, Silvia, 29, was never heard from again.

In the weeks that followed, Angel, Esmeralda, then 11, and Esteban, 4, were shuttled to Eva's house, as Octavio took to drinking.

What they didn't know was that their ordeal was far from over – alone they would face the evils and temptations that their mother had tried so hard to protect them from.

They joined the scores of Juárez children known as the "orphans of the disappeared," a group of at least 80 children whose stories are rarely told.


All is quiet except for the crunch of Angel's running shoes on the rocky road in his colonia, Granjas de Chapultepec, on this overcast July day.

Sometimes it seems as if Angel is always running, away from me, away from his past, away from anything that reminds him of Silvia.

I drop by his great aunt's house to see if he will talk to me, but he takes off running when he sees me.

I follow and he finally stops, but offers little about where he's been or what he's been doing. I can tell he's looking for a way to escape. A few seconds later, an excuse materializes when a beat-up Datsun truck rumbles down the dirt road, stops and honks.

Angel squints suspiciously, then recognizes the passengers. "Wait here," he tells me, and approaches the truck.

After a short conversation, he digs into his baggy jeans and hands the driver a package.

He lights a cigarette and leans against the truck smoking until a police truck rounds the corner. In an instant Angel is running again. There's nobody he can trust.

Trust was something he once shared with his mother, who would take the time to play board games with him on weekends. Who hunted him down in the neighborhood at 9 p.m. sharp when he ignored his curfew playing Nintendo with a friend. Who would scold him, but explain right from wrong.

Since his mother's disappearance, he says, he's become the family outcast, the one who doesn't get along with anybody, the one no one understands. Not even Eva, who accused him of stealing from her and said he couldn't live with her anymore.

His friends are his family now, he says.

Yet, on a night when he was surrounded by friends, laughing, drinking and partying, Angel, feeling alone in the world, decided to take his life.

He reached into his pocket for his 9mm automatic gun, which he began carrying after he was shot in the leg by a rival gang, and pointed it at his head.

A friend spotted him and pleaded with him to stop: Think of what your mother would say if she returned; imagine Esteban crying over your death.

Angel stopped and nodded.

"In the end, it's hope that moves you," he tells me.

His words seem at odds with the boy who lives life so dangerously, as if he's already given up.

He claims nobody cares about him, but from Jimenez, Esmeralda thinks of him every day, believing there's still hope for her brother.

"Nobody gave him the love he needed. I don't think any of us got the love we needed," Esmeralda, 17, says. "Eva was too busy, she spent so much time searching for my mom that she didn't pay attention to us. My brother was just looking for attention so he could be the same person he was before."

The child Angel was before is far different from the young man he's become.

In family pictures, the Atayde Arce children giggle, romping through a desert playground in Southern California, where they lived for four years near relatives.

Those were the days when Angel was an adorable boy with hair so golden his nickname was "El Sol (the sun)."

The days when Esteban, with his chubby cheeks, was the mascot for Angel's Juárez baseball team and knew how to make the crowd laugh. Even Esmeralda joined in the revelry, leading cheers for the team.

They lived the life of a typical Juárez family, with two working-class parents - Octavio, a bartender and restaurant chef, and Silvia, a nightclub worker. Octavio says she was a dancer, but Eva says her daughter sold burritos and cosmetics at the club.

It wasn't a perfect life, by any means.

Angel's fists still clench when he remembers how his parents' arguments turned violent. Octavio admits he hit Silvia early in their marriage, but the children say the beatings continued.

Despite their problems, the Atayde Arce children remember the love of their parents.

Silvia loved to cook and made sure the refrigerator was stocked and pan dulce was on the table. Octavio taught Angel how to throw a ball and managed his baseball team.

Esmeralda twirled in gymnastics, danced, performed in theater and took modeling classes.

She was the big sister with big dreams. She was going to be a teacher, maybe a social worker. Angel had dreams too, of climbing into a fire truck when he grew up and commanding the steering wheel, just like the firefighters near his house.

When Silvia disappeared, all of that changed. Discomfort became a daily part of their lives as they bounced from home to home.

Octavio spent much of the next five years in prison in the United States, serving time for smuggling marijuana and then for crossing the border illegally.

Angel, who was in fourth grade when Silvia disappeared, had always done well in school. But in junior high, he started talking back to teachers and even the principal.

He'd use his school money to go to the movies with friends.

The final thread connecting him to his former life broke when a friend of Octavio's invited Angel to do maintenance work, and he left school for good. Four months later, he quit the job, too, and started hanging out with a gang.

Angel blamed Octavio for his mother's disappearance. He grew even angrier when his father's girlfriend moved in with them. He started swearing and misbehaving, anything he could to sabotage the new love in Octavio's life.

Then he received another blow, when 14-year-old Esmeralda married Jose Natividad Diaz Rodriguez, the brother of Octavio's girlfriend.

"I looked for love in somebody else ... and he gave me love," Esmeralda says.

She was pregnant with her first daughter, Heidy, by the following May and became a mother at age 15.

The young couple moved to Jimenez, a sleepy town of vast green valleys where Natividad's elderly parents live. Far from her brothers, Esmeralda has new responsibilities now as a mother to Heidy, 16 months, and Ruth, 4 months, yet she still hasn't stopped hoping for her mother's return.


"Vroom, vroom," come the voices from the kitchen one warm July morning.

Crouched together in front of the television that sits on Eva's kitchen counter, the two brothers maneuver their Nintendo joysticks, trying to outdo one another in a car race.

His arm draped across Esteban's back, Angel looks harmless, not like the delinquent maligned and feared on the streets of his colonia.

It's only around Esteban that Angel's soft side emerges.

We visit the nearby house that he shares with friends, and he beams when he introduces his 9-year-old brother to them.

"This is my brother from Califas," Angel says, proudly showing off Esteban, who was born in California and lives with his uncle in Texas during the school year.

More than anything, Angel tells me, he wants to help his little brother get ahead in life, to give him everything he can so he can study and become someone.

"I don't want him to go through what I've gone through," Angel says.

Unlike Esmeralda and Angel, Esteban doesn't have as many memories of his mother.

After she vanished, he'd wake up in the morning and tell Eva that his mom cradled him in her arms and sang to him in his dreams.

"I'm going to study and go to the sea, and when I'm there I'm going to ask God to bring back my mom," he'd tell Eva.

Over time, the few memories began fading, but what his mind couldn't remember, his heart still longed for.

Eva, 63, has tried as best she can to fill Silvia's role, keeping Esteban close during the summer.

And that's where I find him one August afternoon, at the dining room table, with his head buried in his arms, crying quietly.

Eva won't let him play soccer with his friends, he tells me. I remember my conversations with Eva, an activist who's marched and protested for justice: the phone threats she receives at 6 a.m., the way she was beaten in a shopping center, her fears that one day whoever took Silvia will take the children too.

I want to hug Esteban and tell him it's OK, but I don't. The journalist in me doesn't want to step outside professional bounds, but my heart aches for him and all he's lost.

Esteban wants the freedom to run with his friends to a nearby soccer field and kick the ball.

Instead, he resigns himself to playing in his yard, under Eva's watchful gaze. He and his cousin Luis dig roads in mounds of dirt for their toy trucks and let their imagination take them places they can't go.

Esteban doesn't look at the world with the same fears that Angel and Eva do.

All he knows is that he misses his family when he's shuttled to his uncle's house in Amarillo, Texas, where he's spent the past two school years.

Eva sends him there, fearing Angel's influence will draw Esteban into a life of lawlessness.

She knows how easily a young life can be taken off course.


Sometimes Eva doesn't see Angel for days, and she worries.

On Election Day, when a boy gets shot nearby, she prays and hopes it's not her grandson.

Then she spots him from afar, entering his great-aunt's house to eat a meal or hanging out on a street corner, and her heart stops beating so quickly.

But in September, when she doesn't see Angel for weeks, she knows something is wrong.

She tracks down his friends, who tell her Angel must be in El Paso, Texas, but he still doesn't show up. She talks to neighbors and police and anyone who will listen, until she discovers he's being held in the Juárez state prison.

"I had this fear. I said maybe (the police have) done something to Angel," Eva says. "I was expecting the worst news - that they would say they had found him lying there in his prison cell dead. That's what we imagined."

When his uncle visits him in prison, he finds Angel so beaten that he's vomiting blood. His legs have also been burned with electrical shocks. Angel maintains his innocence. He says he was buying pens at a stationery store when a group of men tried to rob the store. When police caught the robbers they also rounded up Angel, who is also accused of five murders unrelated to the robbery.

In mid-September, he's transferred to a juvenile hall, where he's given a two-year sentence and enrolled in junior high classes. When a prison official tells me he's taking computer, carpentry and mechanic classes, I try to imagine Angel sitting in a classroom.

It seems impossible.

Just as impossible, I'm sure, for Silvia Arce Atayde, who had such great dreams for her children, to have imagined where they are now: a son in prison, a daughter mothering two babies, and her youngest living far from his family in the United States.

It was as if Silvia's dreams vanished with her.

From Anguish to Action

Some days Benita Monarrez Salgado just wants to give up, and this is one of them.

One of the mothers in Benita's group has burst into tears, and they sit in a circle, staring uncomfortably at the table.

She says she's tired of everyone taking advantage of her - the media, the government, and even their own group. She's angry at Benita, who sits solemnly in her chair.

She's not the first to complain about Benita. Other mothers have accused her of being controlling, of not sharing the group's donations fairly, of hoarding the governmentissued van given to the group.

At the back of the room, I sit still, suddenly feeling like a friend invited to a dinner that turns into a family squabble.

After a decade of daughters disappearing in their troubled city, these mothers see no end to their pain, nor to the kidnappings and killings of women.

One by one, young, working-class women have vanished in this desert city near the Rio Grande River. Some are never found; others are discovered raped, mutilated and abandoned in empty cotton fields, in desert corridors, on barren hillsides.

Among them is Benita's daughter Laura Berenice, 17, who vanished Sept. 21, 2001.

Today Benita, 41, is transformed. Her face bears the anguish of a mother, the determination of an activist and the fatigue of an embattled leader.

She co-founded Integración de Madres por Juárez, (Mothers United for Juárez) to press authorities to solve the killings, bring attention to the cases, and raise money for DNA tests on bodies hard to identify.

The pain is so deep for these mothers that wounds open easily, even as they turn a corner in their battle for justice.

After a year of trying to find agencies to help them, the mothers have just signed a letter asking the government to grant them a plot of land.

With this land they hope to build their dream: a tortilla shop. The tortillería, along with their crafts business, will help them support their families.

As Benita prepares to leave after the meeting, she leans against the steering wheel of the group's minivan and sighs.

As the president, she often comes under attack for the way she runs the group.

"Sometimes I think about abandoning everything and focusing on my family, but then I think I've come so far to just abandon it like that," she says.

Benita looks into the distance as her memory travels back in time.

"I was a different person when my daughter was alive."

Before Laura disappeared, Benita sold used clothing from her home, and worked for a cookie company giving out samples in supermarkets.

She and her husband, a maquiladora security guard, could afford only a one-room house with dirt floors, but Benita found herself in high spirits and full of energy - enough so that when Laura asked her to dress up, Benita would happily comply.

"I always want to see you dressed elegantly, pretty," Laura would tell her.

So Benita would put on a miniskirt and heels. She'd make up her face, sweep up her hair and polish her nails.

"I still remember how she leaned her head against my shoulder and sat on my lap," Benita says. "She was always the daughter who kept me moving forward."

Now, Benita draws strength by helping other grieving mothers to help themselves.

Found in a field

Like many of the mothers in her group, Benita finds it difficult to forget about the past.

Laura disappeared just a month shy of her 18th birthday and a year from graduation.

Almost two months later, authorities announced that her body was one of eight found in a former cotton field near her father's colonia.

Authorities took six months to identify Laura, and Benita's uneasiness grew. Without explaining the delay, they delivered the body in a sealed box and ordered Benita not to open it.

"One of the agents said they were protecting me. Why don't they protect me now from this desperation and anguish?"

Believing that the body wasn't her daughter, Benita kept a piece of leg bone and sent it to California for a DNA test.

Unable to afford the $4,000 to have the test done, she turned to U.S. activists to raise the money.

All she could do was wait.

"Right now, what keeps me going is wanting to know - maybe my daughter is alive. Or whether she's dead. That's what keeps me going. That and to be able to help people in the same situation," says Benita, also mother to Claudia, 23; Jorge Daniel, 16; and Ramon, 1.

Early on, Benita decided she didn't want the group to depend on handouts.

"We have to find a way to do it ourselves," she says.

Benita's daughter Claudia created a business plan for the tortillería, while Benita began approaching politicians, people who'd never crossed her path before Laura's disappearance.

"You learn to do things you never would have after you've suffered," Benita says. "I turned my rage into something positive, into something that the people could use."

Her voice is soft, almost timid, but she carries her head high, and her stride is purposeful.

Her eyes, framed by the arched brows Laura inherited, can turn in an instant from friendly to furious as she rails against the media or anyone who steps in the way.

Yet, on another day in the group's office, she weeps, admitting how hard it is to carry this burden for herself and the women of Juárez.

She leans her head in her hands, wondering how she's going to pay the group's phone bill. She doesn't have enough for her gas bill or medicine for her son Ramon, who has pneumonia.

"Sometimes I feel like crying and crying, but I know that crying won't get me anywhere. I know that I have to face the world no matter what."

I'm not the first reporter to show up at Benita's office, and she eyes me with mistrust.

Before I even begin the interview, she complains about the droves of reporters who come knocking at her door.

It angers her to think that the media have made money off the mothers' grief.

From Poland to England, from New York to Miami, reporters swoop in, cameras ready, notebooks in hand. They produce documentaries, publish books and magazine articles that make them money, says Benita, her brown eyes brewing with anger.

"Where's the money for us?"

I explain that I'm there to tell her story so readers will see that she and the other mothers are trying to make a difference, despite their financial troubles.

Their office, a converted home on a busy boulevard, is so empty our voices echo. Its only furnishings are a school desk and a row of metal chairs, but the mothers keep it clean, sweeping up and chasing out rats that sneak into the kitchen.

Benita keeps the refrigerator stocked, using the earnings the group makes selling crafts. It's the least she can offer the mothers, she says, who don't have enough to feed their families.

One rule the mothers established when they began meeting a year ago was not to talk about the past.

"We miss (our daughters). They were a big part of our lives, but may all the cruelty of the past stay in the past, and may we get ahead for the children we still have with us," Benita says.

It's a tough goal.

"We haven't just lost a daughter, we've lost a way of life," Benita says. "It affects everything completely."

Some families disintegrate, leaving grandmothers to raise their daughters' children.

Benita vows to help these orphans. She wants to give them food, clothes, tuition and counseling. She wants each orphan to "be an accomplished person, to not end up as street kids."

Many promise to help, but leave the mothers waiting.

A Washington, D.C., woman offers seed money for the tortillería, but the group doesn't hear from her for months.

A Texan says she'll donate sewing machines so the mothers can make curtains and robes, but none has materialized.

Without enough money to buy fabric, three rented industrial sewing machines remain silent in a back room.

Instead, the women make felt dolls and other crafts. They go to meetings for moral support as well as counseling provided by the government.

Making dolls and selling tortillas might help the mothers feed their families, but they know it won't solve their daughters' cases. For that they say they must pressure authorities.

They wear T-shirts emblazoned with their daughters' faces, they hang placards around their necks demanding justice, and they crash news conferences to show politicians that they won't back down.

Moment of triumph

It's impossible to miss her.

Dressed in a miniskirt and a crisp, white top, her auburn hair swept up in a bun, Benita stands calmly, watching the chaos.

I inch my way, little by little, through the crush of journalists, government officials and activists clamoring to get under the white tent.

It's one of those July days when the hellish heat makes the air suffocating.

I pass a phalanx of stern- faced, fatigue-clad officers and head toward the stage where some of Mexico's highest-ranking officials sit.

Not even the blistering heat has kept Benita from appearing here at municipal headquarters.

It's an important day for local authorities, who will unveil a new security program to curb the crime that's gripped the city for more than a decade.

Benita, however, is not here just to listen.

She knows if she makes the right move, she can make their case before the governor, the secretary of state, or even Mexico's attorney general.

Standing nearby, the mothers of the missing women wait for a signal from their scout. They're tired of waiting for police to stop the killings.

The officials take to the podium and denounce the killings, but Benita has heard this before and bides her time, fanning herself with a set of folders.

When a news conference begins inside, she hurries to the auditorium with the rest of the mothers in tow and peers in.

She wants just a few minutes with Secretary of the Interior Santiago Creel, but when the news conference ends, the officials slip out a back door.

"Let's go!" Benita shouts to the mothers. She sprints down the staircase in her high heels and hurries to a tour bus that Creel is about to board.

Benita flags him, introduces herself and hands him a letter.

"We need support to launch our projects, but we also want our cases to be resolved," she says. "We want to know if our daughters' cases are being investigated."

Creel tells her that his assistant will help her in any way he can, thanks her and leaves. A few minutes later, his assistant makes an appointment with the group to listen to their concerns.

To outsiders this might seem like a minor triumph, but for Benita it's a victory.

For too long her complaints have been brushed aside, but she believes that each letter she writes, every plea she makes, and each official she confronts brings her that much closer to finding her daughter's killer.


Every day comes with its battles for Benita as she deals with poor mothers who accuse her of pressuring them to produce crafts and claim she doesn't distribute the money they earn equally.

They say she uses their group for her own benefit and doesn't share donations.

"There are other families who are far worse off than I am, and she won't offer to help, not even to give you a kilo of tortillas, for anything," says one mother.

They resent it when Benita and other leaders travel to conferences and talk shows.

"They say they go to the United States, they go to San Antonio, to Los Angeles...waving us like little flags, but nothing comes our way," mother Rosario Hernández says.

At first, Rosario accepted Benita's offer to make crafts in exchange for part of the profits, but she grew disillusioned when she received $10 for her work. A bus trip alone cost her $2.80.

Other mothers have similar complaints, including the group's vice president, Maria de Jesus Diaz, who stops making crafts as well.

When California activists donate supplies, Benita is accused of keeping them. A Texas parish donates $1,000, but some mothers say Benita told them it never arrived.

Benita denies the allegations and says she hopes people can see that she's not motivated by money, but by justice.

"I don't prize money. Yes, money is necessary to survive, but no amount can replace my daughter," she says.

Opening shop

Despite the group's differences, Benita pushes on, and by October they're on the way to opening the tortillería.

The government decides to grant the group a plot of land, and $9,000 in seed money comes from the United Nations and two government programs.

At a conference at the University of California, Los Angeles, Benita's face beams as she talks to me about the plans.

Normally aloof, she's more relaxed as she sits behind a table selling her group's crafts, tiny handbags with their logo: a half circle of children holding hands before a red rose.

If all goes well, the tortilla shop will open soon, a prospect the group faces with nervousness and happiness, she says. Nervousness because of the responsibility, and happiness because their destiny will be in their own hands.

As she speaks on a panel, Benita stresses that she and her group don't want to be victims any longer.

"I want people to know me by the work I do - our handmade work as much as our social work," Benita says.

Autumn also brings loss for the group, which hemorrhages members still upset with Benita's management. Its numbers dwindle from 25 to 10.

Again, her doubts surface.

"There are days when I come to the office, I greet the women, do my work and I leave," she says. "I'm living with such pain. People look at me and must say I look spent."

The turbulence comes in waves. The first of the DNA results show the body Benita buried was her daughter's.

The news devastates Benita, whose voice trembles as she talks about it, but she doesn't take the bad news as conclusive.

"I still have the hope that my daughter might be alive. Of course I'm accepting this more, but deep down, deep down I have to believe that my daughter is alive."

So she waits patiently for a second set of test results and forges ahead.

All she asks for is the strength and the wisdom to carry her pain and move on.

By December, the rest of the mothers in her group defect to the Chihuahua Institute for Women, a state-funded agency.

Benita is upset by the loss and claims the government is trying to divide the mothers.

Still, she's determined to open the tortillería, and finds a storefront in a neighborhood of businesses and homes.

As her group's president and sole member, she prepares and sends out invitations for the inauguration of Tortillería La Esperanza (The Hope).

She invites a priest to bless the business, prepares appetizers - cold meats, cheese, salads and, of course, tortillas. Last, she strings a cherry-red ribbon at the entrance to the shop.

On Jan. 4, 2004, Benita opens Tortillería La Esperanza to the public.

As she watches the shop's mill churn the corn dough, Benita wants to laugh and cry at the same time.

She thinks of the girls who continue to disappear, she thinks of their families who struggle to return to daily life after the loss of their daughters. It's difficult, she says, to integrate yourself back into the world.

Yet with a job, even if it's simply selling tortillas, a person can have hope, she says.

"I felt so happy to have been able to achieve this after so many difficulties and stumbles," Benita says. "I felt very excited...because, despite the circumstances, I'm striving so that this can be something that truly benefits the families who need it."

Angering the Wrong Crowd

She imagines her favorite, faraway places to try to forget where she is.

Instead of a tiny cement cell, she's walking on a New York City street filled with people.

Instead of a thin mattress with a toilet just a step away, she's sitting on a sandy beach with the ocean stretched out before her.

Then Isabel Arvide opens her eyes and sees a dark prison cell where night seems to last forever and her captors could come anytime to kill her.

"You're not here," the 52-year-old woman repeats to herself to try to keep calm. "You're not a prisoner."

The Mexico City journalist is certain she's going to be killed, just as she believes her best friend was seven years earlier in Ciudad Juárez, home base to one of the most powerful drug cartels in the world.

Heidi's death in 1995 led Isabel to the state of Chihuahua, sometimes for weeks at a time, where her investigation into her friend's death turned into a series of writings accusing the state attorney general and other top officials of corruption.

Now, here she is, at the mercy of the very people she's accused.

Isabel has been stripped of her clothing. Female guards have probed inside her to make sure nothing is hidden.

They return her clothes to her, then lead her through a maze of dark corridors to a five-cell block. Hours later, she's still waiting to find out why she's here. She's consumed with fear that she'll be killed.

After interviewing a politician in Chihuahua earlier that day, she was at the airport, waiting for her return flight to Mexico City, when a group of men surrounded her. They weren't in uniform but identified themselves as federal judicial police, then forced her out of the airport and into a truck with no police logo.

Isabel, panicked because this is how Heidi disappeared, asked why they were taking her, but the men didn't answer.

In two decades as a journalist, Isabel has written articles that infuriated powerful officials. Since Heidi's death, she's written that Chihuahua state government officials investigating the Juárez killings are linked to drug trafficking.

And since then, Isabel has survived two assassination attempts and taken to sleeping with a gun under her pillow.

In the truck, she screamed at the men, begging them to allow her to make a call until they finally gave her a cell phone.

"Get word out to the media and human rights. My life depends on it," she told Bruno, her 25-year-old son.

A TV producer in Mexico City, Bruno knows all her friends, many of them influential federal officials Isabel has met covering politics. Isabel knows Bruno will contact media outlets and have her friends call the governor of Chihuahua.

Still, sitting in her cell, Isabel doesn't know whether anything they do will lead to her freedom.

She asks fellow prisoners if she can borrow a pencil or pen so she can document her arrest, but they say they're under strict orders not to talk to her.

Isabel doesn't sleep and refuses prison food for fear of being poisoned.

In the morning, she's finally allowed to talk to her attorney.

He tells her she's accused of defaming a newspaper publisher who she said was affiliated with drug traffickers in an article published a year earlier in Milenio, a popular and well-respected Mexico City newspaper.

To get out of prison, Isabel must post bail of $10,000 in cash, until then the highest bail amount requested in the state of Chihuahua.

Isabel's attorneys have about 90 minutes, on a Saturday afternoon when many banks are closed, to collect the cash. Some banks don't have large amounts of money on hand.

Still, her attorneys think it's too risky for her to spend another night in prison. They work quickly, collecting cash from Isabel's friends, managing to get her out of prison that afternoon.

But that's not the end of her troubles in Chihuahua.

After that arrest in August 2002, she's required to travel from Mexico City every month and report to court. On one of those visits, she's arrested again, spends another frightening night in prison, and is charged with a second count of defamation.

The second charge is based on the same news article. The new charge accuses Isabel of defaming Chihuahua state Attorney General Jesus Jose Solis Silva, whose job at the time included overseeing the investigation of the serial killings in Juárez.

In the United States, truth is the strongest defense for a journalist facing defamation charges. In Mexico, things are different. Isabel tells me she has no doubt that what she wrote is true but says she's never been given the opportunity to dispute the case against her, and now faces up to two years in prison.

Groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Organization of American States have defended Isabel, saying the case is an attack on Mexico's embryonic democracy.

Isabel has grown used to barriers in her career, becoming a journalist when there weren't many women in the newsroom.

"I became very aggressive because that was the only way to survive in this business."

I wanted to write about a journalist because one of the problems in Juárez is that the press is muzzled. But I wasn't sure Isabel's story was the right one.

Then, I found out about Heidi, Isabel's best friend for 17 years.


Heidi's story starts like the others. In Juárez, where women disappear. Sometimes, they turn up dead. Often, they don't turn up at all.

This is what happened to Heidi Slauquet Armengol.

Isabel is a single mother who's just starting a reporting career when she meets Heidi at a party in Mexico City in the 1970s.

A captivating blonde with vivacious blue eyes, Heidi is a party girl, always in search of the next celebration. Isabel, dark-haired and serious, is instantly attracted to the fun, outgoing Heidi.

They become fast friends. Heidi makes Isabel's family her own. She tells Isabel she was born in the tiny country of Andorra between France and Spain and was adopted by peasants after her family was killed in the Holocaust.

At 15, Heidi left her adoptive parents and began a lifetime of wandering. She followed a bullfighter boyfriend from Europe to Mexico, where she felt so at home that, eventually, she became a citizen. An artist with no steady job, she found ways to earn a living, whether hawking her paintings or other artists' wares.

For nearly two decades, Heidi makes Mexico City her home and Isabel her closest friend. She and Isabel travel together. Heidi often outlasts Isabel on party nights, even though Isabel is 10 years younger.

Then, Heidi discovers Juárez. She tags along with Isabel on a 1993 reporting trip and is captivated by the vibrant social life on the border. When Isabel returns home, Heidi stays. She keeps her apartment in Mexico City, but Juárez becomes her home. In November 1995, Heidi is still in Juárez just as Isabel is preparing to publish her fifth book. Heidi offers to set up a reception in Juárez to promote it.

One day, Heidi takes a taxi to the airport so she can send sample invitations to Isabel by courier. She drops off the invitations and returns to the taxi.

Other cab drivers tell Isabel later that they saw men in dark SUVs force the taxi to a stop, snatch Heidi and take off.

It's the last time Heidi is seen.

The following day, Heidi's taxi driver is found, his body wrapped in a flower-print bedsheet. He was strangled, his day's earnings of $9 still in his pocket.

There are no signs of Heidi.

Two days later, Isabel arrives at the Juárez airport, fuming that her flighty friend isn't there to pick her up. Angry that Heidi won't answer her cell phone, Isabel checks into a hotel.

As the hours pass, Isabel begins to suspect something has happened to her friend.

When she goes looking for Heidi, few want to talk. Suddenly, Heidi's friends claim not to have known her.

As days, then weeks, and finally months, pass, Isabel prods authorities to investigate. If there was a time for Isabel to use her connections with people in high places, this is it.

Still, authorities don't take Heidi's disappearance seriously.

"Oh, she probably went off to some party or simply disappeared to start a new life somewhere," authorities say.

Isabel knows better. She knows Heidi wouldn't leave without telling her, or at least leaving instructions on what to do with her beloved Mexico City apartment.

So Isabel takes to the streets, interviewing witnesses police never questioned. Little by little, she pieces together Heidi's life in Juárez. Isabel learns her friend stumbled onto the dangerous social world of drug traffickers. In Juárez, Isabel says angrily, cartel leaders mingle freely with well-regarded business people.

Did her friend find out something she wasn't supposed to know? Did she say something to the wrong person?

Isabel has spent too much time writing about politics and corruption not to know how dangerous it can be to mess with drug traffickers. Until now, Isabel steered away from writing about them, once turning down an interview with a notorious drug lord even though it would have been a journalistic coup.

But Isabel knows that Heidi, in her never-ending quest to find the next party, might not have heeded common sense.

To pursue Heidi's disappearance, Isabel risks angering a dangerous crowd, but she can't back away from the most important mission in her life.

To turn her back on Heidi now means turning her back on everything she believes in. Her career has been about pursuing the truth.

And so Isabel presses on, trying to get federal authorities to investigate even though Chihuahua officials say they don't need any help. With what she's learned, she believes the same people killing women in Juárez kidnapped Heidi. But each time Isabel presents her evidence, the response is the same.

"This is a local matter."

Finally, after many fruitless meetings with state authorities, Isabel returns home.

She turns to the grim task of getting rid of Heidi's things. She terminates the lease on Heidi's apartment and dismisses the housekeeper. Without a body to bury, this is what forces Isabel to face the fact that Heidi is dead.

She writes about Heidi in a book titled "Death in Juárez." She uses her experiences as a starting point for other articles about corruption and drug trafficking in Chihuahua. Much of her writing focuses on the hundreds who vanish without a trace in Juárez.

"The cases of the disappeared, they are much bigger than the cases of women killed in Juárez," Isabel says. "One day, this will all come to light."

In late 2001, Mexican federal authorities for the first time become involved in the cases of the missing men and women of Juárez. They dig on a ranch where hundreds of bodies are believed to be buried, the victims of drug violence. In the end, 11 bodies are unearthed, but Isabel considers it a victory that federal authorities stepped in.

Despite all Isabel does and writes, Heidi's disappearance is never solved. Her body is never found.

Heidi becomes, like the hundreds of others who have disappeared, an unacknowledged victim of the violence in Juárez.


Even with prison time hanging over her head, Isabel continues to write scathing critiques of Chihuahua authorities.

In a July 18, 2003, column published in the Juárez daily El Norte, Isabel writes that authorities don't do much more than type up a complaint when it comes to the serial killings.

"There, the norm is not investigating."

A few weeks later, she's due for one of her court-mandated visits to the city of Chihuahua, where I've arranged to meet her.

Looking out a courthouse window as I wait for her, I see a cluster of people walking in formation with a steady stride and purpose. A lone woman is surrounded by about a dozen men.

It's Isabel. The men are her bodyguards, all appointed by agencies of the Mexican government after death threats and assassination attempts prompted by her writings. Her first bodyguard was appointed about 14 years ago after Isabel wrote about military officials raping young women.

Other stories and more bodyguards followed.

I find it ironic that she must rely on bodyguards supplied by the various levels of government she criticizes.

The contradictions don't stop there. Even as she takes on the government, her primary income comes from her consulting job for the federal attorney general. And, accustomed to working with politicians, she also socializes with them, appearing in society-page photos with ex-presidents.

On this August day, Isabel signs in at the courthouse and then meets me at a restaurant, where we talk for hours, her bodyguards positioned strategically in the restaurant.

She tells me that each time she visits, she signs in and has breakfast. While waiting for the one return flight home, she writes her column, which appears in several Mexican newspapers and on her Web site.

During those hours, Isabel fears she'll get killed.

Her second arrest in March 2003 happened as she was leaving a restaurant, her attorney at one side, a bodyguard on the other and 11 others nearby.

A man approached her. "Isabel, don't you remember me?"

She studied his face.

"I'm the one who arrested you at the airport, and I'm the one who's here to arrest you again," he told her, as her bodyguards took out their guns. Just then, agents in camouflage carrying assault rifles drove up. Isabel's attorney requested the arrest warrant.

"Yes, this is legal. We have to go with them," he said.

Isabel squeezed into the cab of a truck with her attorney and two police officers. As they drove away, the driver yelled into his radio, "Get rid of her people! Get rid of her people!"

Isabel tensed, fearing a bloody confrontation. There were 28 vehicles, each carrying at least two agents.

As they neared the state prison, Isabel began to relax, knowing where she was going.

But Isabel faced another night in prison, this time in isolation. Again, it wasn't until morning that she found out about the second charge of defamation against her. This time, bail was set at $20,000 cash, again setting a record.

At the restaurant in Chihuahua, Isabel is wearing snug black pants and a denim shirt. In her bag, she carries contact lens solution and a toothbrush.

"I always come prepared to spend the night in prison."


Once, months after Heidi vanished, Isabel dreamed about her.

"How are you, little body?" Heidi asked in the dream.

"Cuerpecito" was Heidi's term of endearment for Isabel.

The dream was so real that Isabel believed, for a few minutes, that her friend was still alive. She forced herself awake, only to cry when she realized that her friend was gone.

I ask whether she believes our loved ones can communicate with us after death.

"Not with Heidi. It's too soon because Heidi's death was very violent. These people who kidnapped her didn't merely shoot her. Why am I so sure of this? Just look at how the taxi driver was found," Isabel says.

She tells me this in October 2003 in her Mexico City home.

Her apartment in Colonia Condesa, a central neighborhood near foreign embassies and chic shops, is a colorful haven decorated with paintings by Heidi and other art from Isabel's travels. Photographs of Isabel with each of the Mexican presidents for the past two decades adorn the stairwell.

Each morning, Isabel settles in on her lime-green leather couch to read the papers, preparing an analysis of the news for the federal attorney general.

It's easy to forget for a moment that, downstairs, bodyguards with semi-automatic weapons within easy reach are always around, watching her.

It's a life I would never wish on anyone.

At times, Isabel thinks of escaping to another country, but she doesn't know any foreign languages. She's been a writer all her life and doesn't know how else she could earn a living.

In the spring, months after I visit Isabel, the state attorney general who accused her of defamation leaves his post amid allegations of corruption and close ties to drug traffickers.

Around the same time, the society pages are buzzing with the news that Isabel has finished her first novel.

It's called "The Enemy is in the House."

A Voice for the Women

The phone call came early in the morning, just days before Christmas.

All was quiet in Colonia Nogales, the middle-class neighborhood where Esther Chavez Cano settled 20 years ago on a peaceful cul-de-sac.

Her living room, welcoming and airy with its high ceilings and brick fireplace, was usually tidy. But on this day Esther was scrambling to finish a project for the mayor, and files and papers were everywhere.

With the city's help, Esther planned to open a 24-hour shelter to complement Casa Amiga Centro de Crisis, the rape-crisis center she started in 1999.

The shelter would be another groundbreaking move for Esther. Casa Amiga was the first of its kind and for years the only domestic-violence center in this desert city of roughly 1.3 million.

At 67, Esther could have been enjoying her retirement years, but there was too much work to do, too many lives to protect.

Esther looked at the clock. It was almost 9 a.m., her printer was jammed, and she was worried about clients who would soon start arriving at Casa Amiga.

Then the phone rang. It was one of Casa Amiga's counselors.

"Esther, come quickly. Maria's been killed."

"How? How did this happen?" Esther cried. "I'm on my way."

Esther ran to her car and, ignoring stop signs, raced through the streets of Juárez.

Maria Luisa Carsoli had recently taken a job as a receptionist at Casa Amiga after fleeing her abusive husband.

When she arrived at work, her husband was waiting near the corner bakery, a knife hidden in his sleeve.

Casa Amiga's housekeeper, Lourdes "Lulu" Hernandez, and her young son, Jose Francisco, were waiting on the sidewalk in the sun when Maria pulled up in her station wagon.

Maria had just stepped out of her car and greeted Lourdes when her husband confronted her. The two began arguing, and he pulled out his knife and lunged at Maria.

Lourdes tried to defend her, throwing her body against him and punching him.

"Help me, Lulu; don't let him kill me," Maria cried, but he pushed Lourdes away, shoved Maria against a wall and stabbed her twice in the chest.

Lourdes screamed for help and ran to the nearby bakery, but the shopkeeper ignored her. He was too busy selling tortillas to help.

By the time Esther arrived, it was too late. Maria's body was lying on the tree-lined sidewalk in her own blood, surrounded by police.

Sobbing, Jose Francisco ran to her. "Esther, the knife went through Maria's back. I saw it."

Blocked by the yellow police tape, Esther could only watch over Maria's body. At least cover her, she told the police officers, who spread a blanket over her.

"They wouldn't let me get near her, to take her hand in mine, to tell her all the pain that my soul felt," Esther says.

Esther thought of Maria's sweet laugh, her caring nature, and the nights she sat in Esther's living room trembling as she talked about the times her husband had tried to kill her.

Esther took Maria into her home to help her start a new life with her four children. Then, when her husband stalked her, Esther found her another place to stay.

She had been determined to save Maria from the fate that so many women had met.

A retired accountant turned activist, Esther had fought for years to keep women from being battered and killed.

She was one of the first to realize that a series of women, some girls as young as 10 and 11, were being kidnapped, mutilated, tortured and killed. Though few were willing to speak out, Esther publicly condemned the slayings and helped bring international attention to this border city.

She kept a running list of the deaths, and by her count, in little more than a decade 95 women have been killed in connection with the serial crimes, and another 190 have been killed by their husbands and boyfriends.

Both types of crimes enraged Esther. She knew that in a city where a woman's life was worth less than an order of tortillas, she couldn't keep quiet. That to fight violence against women she had to change society's attitude toward them.

So I arrived in Juárez to meet the woman who hasn't let up on her mission.

The day that Maria died, Esther vowed to open the shelter immediately.

That was Dec. 21, 2001.

Four days later, for the first time, Esther gave refuge to a mother of three in Casa Amiga's new shelter.

She silently told Maria, "I kept the promise I made to you the day you died, but I still suffer because I couldn't save your life."

Esther and her staff wept and hugged when Maria's husband was sentenced to 14 years in prison. At least one killer didn't get away with murder.

"It's something so profound, so painful, to see a loved one in a puddle of blood that I don't know how to describe it," Esther says. "Rage, impotence, suffering, guilt, anguish, but also courage to continue our struggle against the violence against us women."


A phone rings in Casa Amiga, and a counselor answers it. The menacing voice of a man makes his intent clear.

"Is Esther Chavez there?" the man asks.

"No, she's busy. Can you wait?" a Casa Amiga counselor asks.

"No, just tell her to remember Digna Ochoa," the man says and hangs up. With a chill she realizes he's referring to the Mexico City human-rights lawyer found shot to death.

The men who make these anonymous threats on Esther's life have no idea what type of woman they're dealing with.

The threats give her pause. She beefs up security, doesn't allow her staff to work alone, and arranges for the last worker to be escorted to her car at the end of each day.

But scared? She's not.

On a July morning I head to Colonia Hidalgo, a working-class neighborhood near downtown Juárez, where Casa Amiga operates in a yellow stucco house that blends in with the single-story homes on the block.

Inside, the center bustles with women. In the day care, preschoolers watch puppet shows that explain why incest is wrong. In their offices, counselors prepare skits presented daily to factory workers to raise awareness about rape and domestic violence. In meeting rooms, psychologists counsel couples to work through their disputes.

Like the rest of the center, the reception area of Casa Amiga is worn and shabby. Cheery posters brighten the rooms, yet I can't help but make a mental list of the things the center needs: toys for the child-care room, an updated kitchen, computers that don't break down.

I notice a young boy with a ready smile hanging around the office. It's Jose Francisco, the son of Lourdes, Casa Amiga's housekeeper.

He's 10 years old, born the same year Esther began tracking the killings. He has grown up in a city known for its slayings. He lives in a country where nearly half of women suffer abuse or violence at home. He has witnessed a woman being stabbed to death at the doorstep of the center.

I wonder, as I watch him follow his mom as she cleans, how he will treat women when he grows up.

Is there hope for Jose Francisco in a city that doesn't inspire much hope?

As I wait for Esther, I see her hurrying down the hallway, surrounded by her staff as she gives instructions.

Around me, mothers sit patiently, hushing their babies and fanning away the stifling heat. Though she has appointments to keep, Esther greets each client with a hug.

She's a wisp of a figure, petite and blonde. Behind her glasses, Esther's blue-green eyes light up as she greets me.

I can see how men who make threatening phone calls might be fooled by the graciousness of Esther, now 70.

What they don't know is that Esther is a native of Chihuahua, an unforgiving stretch of desert and mountains where for centuries only the fiercest have survived.

She's endured illness, death, and poverty, but none of this would compare to the horrors she would discover in Juárez.

It all began in 1993.

After a successful career as an accounting executive, Esther was retired.

She left behind million-dollar budgets, whirlwind trips around Mexico to oversee accounts for transnational companies.

She wrote a fiery newspaper column, tackling controversial issues, such as supporting a woman's right to an abortion, even when they made people uncomfortable.

Yet, nothing incensed her more than the articles she began to spot in the pages of the city's newspapers: The body of a girl, about 14, was found raped and strangled. A week later, the body of a second girl was found raped and knifed.

Then came another, and another.

The girls' ages made Esther suspicious, and she began keeping a file of clips. The victims were strikingly similar: young, pretty, slim, dark-skinned and, for the most part, poor.

Every time a body was discovered, Esther would track down information.

Case No. 1– Jan. 23. Alma Chavira Farel. Young girl strangled and beaten, raped anally and vaginally, bruise on the chin and a black eye. Was wearing a white sweater with design and short, blue pants. Occurred in Campestre Virreyes.

Case No. 9 – June 11. Identity unknown. Age unknown. Was found partly naked, wearing a jeans skirt, white T-shirt and black tennis shoes. Raped and tied to a stake, stabbed, with a fracture in the skull. She was found on the playground of Alta Vista High School on the way to a dirt road at the edge of the Rio Grande.

Despite the grisly slayings, there was no public outcry.

So Esther joined with activist friends and began to demand answers.

They met with the governor, the attorney general and others, but saw that their complaints weren't taken seriously.

So they formed a coalition of women's groups and persuaded federal congresswomen to champion their cause. They marched, they wrote newspaper columns, they protested, and in 1998, in response to their pressure, officials opened a special unit dedicated to solving women's homicides.

As time passed, the killings became more gruesome.

One woman was raped, then dumped in a 55-gallon drum filled with acid. Some women were found with their breasts mutilated. A 13-year-old was raped, tortured and shot in the head, suffering four heart attacks before she died.

"It was the only time in my life that I didn't sleep at night," Esther says. "I tried to sleep, and I would think of the last hours of agony of those girls. It was unbearable."

For five years she dedicated herself to helping the families of these victims. Then, in 1998, she met CNN reporter Brian Barger, who asked her a question she couldn't answer: Why wasn't she doing anything to prevent these women from being killed?

Touched by the hopelessness in the city, he suggested that together they open a rape-crisis center.

Casa Amiga opened in 1999 and treated 1,000 people in its first year. What began as a staff of two expanded to 12, plus 40 volunteers, who last year served 13,510 people.

There are days when Esther wants to retire, hand over her file of victims and put away her protest banners. But then her sense of responsibility kicks in.

"You say, 'What am I doing here?' Yes, this city is really cruel, very tough, but when you're in the middle of this, you know you can't abandon the people," she says.


Putting others before herself has been a way of life for Esther. Today it's Casa Amiga that comes first.

Her 18-hour days begin at home at 6 a.m. when she checks her e-mail.

She squeezes lunch in at 3 p.m., devouring a Subway sandwich while I interview her, taking phone calls and giving instructions to her staff simultaneously.

At stoplights, she squirts sunscreen onto her hands, and is off when the light turns green.

Looking back, it's almost as if she was groomed from childhood for the enormous task she's taken on.

A native of the city of Chihuahua, Esther lived the privileged life of a rancher's daughter until her father died of a heart attack at age 42. She was 3.

The years that followed were filled with hardship, but the worst came when her mother developed Alzheimer's disease when Esther was 17. The family was forced to leave Chihuahua to live in Guadalajara near specialists.

Esther, who had been taught that family, discipline and responsibility came above all, didn't complain.

Instead, she followed her sisters' lead and worked to support their sick mother, who eventually died of complications from the disease.

Esther went on to become, at age 30, Kraft Foods of Mexico's top accountant in Mexico City, overseeing accounts as far away as Monterrey and Guadalajara.

At the time, in the 1960s, few women held management positions, so as she climbed the executive ranks she faced the anger of male colleagues.

When an employee complained she'd taken his job and refused to have a female boss, she told him to give her a month.

"I didn't take it away from you. You didn't earn it," Esther told him.

If she knew a man had held her job before her arrival, she'd investigate how much he earned, and then confront her bosses, asking why they were paying her less. "You're a woman, and you don't have any kids," they'd tell her.

"What does that matter? I'm here to do a job," Esther would retort.

And she didn't dance or drink with her colleagues after work so they wouldn't get the wrong impression.

"I tried to act strong until I became strong," Esther says.

So strong that a boyfriend once complained that he had never met a person so stubborn.

Single and without children, she was courted and fell in love, but never married, she says.

"It was hard for men to accept who I was."

Even with her success, she still put family first. So 22 years after arriving in Mexico City, when her 90-year-old aunt told her she wanted to die in her hometown, Esther didn't hesitate.

She followed Concepción to Ciudad Juárez in 1982.


Another 12 years passed before Esther's aunt died, and by that time Esther was firmly rooted in Juárez, unable to turn her back on the border city's problems.

Which is why, on a hot July morning when she gets a last-minute notice about a protest happening that day, Esther comes to a halt.

A few hours later she's marching outside the Attorney General's Office, chanting, "In Juárez, not one more death. In Chihuahua, not one more death!"

The protesters have come to speak to state Deputy Attorney General Oscar Valadez Reyes, and the chant becomes "Justice! Justice! Justice!" as they file into the building.

Anybody requesting a visit with Valadez must sign in, which one of the protesters does, and is granted an appointment.

"We got an appointment. We got an appointment," she tells the group excitedly, but a skeptical Esther knows the wait could be hours.

"They always say the same thing. Promises, promises," she says.

With that, she heads out the front door, a handful of protesters following her as she enters the building through the back and marches straight into Valadez's reception area.

She requests a visit with him and then chats with the receptionist. Within minutes, she and the protesters are face to face with Valadez.

"For the last 10 years we believe nothing has been accomplished," she says in her calm but firm voice. "The same crimes continue, and we get the same response from authorities. We don't know who else to turn to. And as long as women continue to disappear, as long as we continue to find bodies ... it's a sign of your ineffectiveness or of your corruption."

Valadez bristles.

"I assure you that as far as the Attorney General's Office goes, we're doing what's possible to investigate," he says. "We have solved some cases. We haven't been able to solve all of them, unfortunately, but I can guarantee you we're working hard."

It's only after Esther breaks the silence that the other protesters pressure Valadez. It's easier to speak out when someone has paved the way, and the group leaves shortly after, satisfied that at least they delivered their grievances face to face.

At Casa Amiga, little Jose Francisco comes running when he hears Esther has returned from the protest. "How did it go?" he eagerly asks Esther as if he were a colleague, not a fourth-grader. "Were you able to get in?"

"We didn't ask for permission," Esther says with a wink.

Unexpected visit

It's a gloomy overcast morning the day Esther and I travel across Juárez to the outskirts of town – to Juárez Nuevo (New Juárez).

Her car creates a dust cloud on the bumpy dirt road, drawing attention from the residents, who peer between the slats in the wood pallets that fence their yards.

Juárez Nuevo is an ironic name for a squatters camp where nothing is new and poverty is everywhere.

As she maneuvers her tiny Chevrolet Cavalier, Esther furrows her eyebrows as she leans left and right to try to find the street. There are no signs to guide her, but she pushes on, doubles back, makes U-turns, and finally, after 20 minutes, finds what she's looking for.

Lucia Escalante lives with her five children in this colonia that clings to the edge of Juárez. She's one of the hundreds of domestic-violence victims Esther helps.

Beyond a recycled house door that serves as a gate is the house, where Lucia, who works the graveyard shift at a maquiladora, and her children are sleeping. Esther knocks.

Lucia, with her hair disheveled and her cotton housedress rumpled, opens the door, smiles shyly and hugs Esther.

The children run in, and Esther wraps her arms around them and squeezes.

Barefoot, they scurry to their bunk beds in the kitchen to fetch their shoes. They range in age from 2 to 14. Oscar, the eldest, receives a scholarship through Casa Amiga, thanks to American sponsors.

"How have you been?" Esther asks Lucia.

"I've been worried. I work the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, and the kids stay here by themselves," Lucia says. "There are so many cholos."

"Be careful, don't get in trouble," Esther tells the kids, advising them to stay away from the gang members.

Here in Juárez Nuevo, where poverty shadows every child, the future looks bleak for Raul, Augusto, Jose, Daniela and Oscar. Will they make it?

The family makes do with whatever they can find. To keep wind from blowing into the house, they stuff a jacket in a ceiling hole. One wall is covered with newspapers, another with chalkboards.

On this day, Esther brings eggs and meat, fresh bananas and cauliflower, a whole trunk full of groceries.

She asks Lucia if she can send Oscar by bus to Casa Amiga the following Saturday. His scholarship sponsors want to have breakfast with him.

It's a long trip, but one day, it won't be a hardship. Esther's plan is to create satellite centers so families like the Escalantes won't have to catch three buses to get help at Casa Amiga.

It's women like Lucia who inspire Esther.

"These brave mothers are such fighters. How they rise up, how they fight for justice ... and how much they've changed me," Esther says.

Some experts and activists argue over exactly how many women are victims of the serial killings, but Esther stays focused on the problem.

"It's not the number that matters, it's the hate with which they kill," Esther says. "How they discard (women) as if they aren't worth anything."

She believes all crimes against women in Juárez are connected by one common denominator - impunity.

Each crime that's not solved sends one message to the killers: that they can get away with murder.

"You feel so impotent because you want to solve the problems, but there are so many problems that you can't. And that's not your job," Esther says. "Your job is to teach (women) to solve their own problems."

So she goes to Juárez Nuevo to encourage Oscar and his siblings to keep getting good grades. Esther believes in these kids.

And she'll keep coming back.

"As long as my health permits, this is my project for life," Esther says. "You do it because you see the results. You see that your work lands on solid soil and it blooms."

Which is why, in a home cobbled together with plywood and shipping pallets, I sense the possibility for good things built on a foundation of faith, and I leave Juárez Nuevo feeling hopeful.


The day before I leave Ciudad Juárez, I stop by Casa Amiga to say goodbye to Esther. Though weak from a recent surgery, she's back at work, making a presentation to the staff of the U.S. consulate and doing what she loves most.

In the hallway, I run into Jose Francisco and sit down on a couch to chat.

When I ask him what he's learned at Casa Amiga, he tells me: "I've learned to be obedient, to behave myself, not do bad things - like rob or kill."

I look in his eyes, so brown and innocent still. He kicks his legs against the couch.

With people like Esther leading the way, I no longer wonder whether a little boy like Jose Francisco will grow up to abuse women.

I look up on the wall and see a poster I've glanced at many times since my first visit.

It speaks of the violence that's gripped Juárez, but it also reminds us that "There is more to life than rage, than sadness, than terror.

"There is hope."

Notes: Help From the U.S.

U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, is leading bipartisan efforts in Congress to encourage U.S. help in ending the serial killings. After leading a congressional delegation to Juárez last year, Solis and other lawmakers introduced a bill, HR466, that asks the U.S. president and secretary of state to make the issue part of the U.S.-Mexico agenda. The bill has 122 co-sponsors.

Since 1993, the FBI and El Paso, Texas, police have provided courses for law enforcement in Chihuahua. Previously, they assisted in investigations when invited by Mexican authorities.

Stephen Slater, former head of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, works for the state of Chihuahua as public-safety adviser to investigators in Ciudad Juárez.

Eve Ensler, creator of the award-winning “The Vagina Monologues,” spearheads protests in Ciudad Juárez as part of a campaign by her nonprofit, V-Day, to eradicate violence against women worldwide. The movement has attracted actors such as Jane Fonda.

Musicians including Tori Amos, Jaguares and Los Tigres del Norte have composed songs to bring attention to the cause.

“Señorita Extraviada,” a 2002 PBS documentary directed by Lourdes Portillo, has been screened for audiences nationwide.

Orange County artists Adriana Alba-Sanchez and Rigo Maldonado participated in a yearlong art exhibit to spark awareness of the slayings. Maldonado also creates “Project Juárez,” a monthlong series of community workshops held at the Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana.

U.S. activists and residents have organized caravans to Ciudad Juárez during days when protests are scheduled or to meet with families of victims.

Notes: Resource List

Casa Amiga Centro de Crisis: Peru Norte 878, Colonia Hidalgo, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Contact: Esther Chavez Cano, 011-52-656-615-3850, or [email protected]. Information: www.casa-amiga.org

Donations: Bank of America account No. 004768701174, Routing No. 111000025. Send checks to Casa Amiga, Avenida Commerce 6928, El Paso, TX 79915

Write to the Arce-Atayde orphans in care of Eva Arce, Grullas 1405, Colonia Granjas de Chapultepec, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico 32677.

Write to Irma Monreal at Grulla 2205, Colonia Granjas de Chapultepec, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico 32677.

Write to Benita Salgado Monarrez at Tortillería La Esperanza, Calle Porfirio Diaz 342, Colonia Morelos-Zaragoza, Codigo Postal 32590, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Instituto Chihuahuense de la Mujer (Chihuahua Institute for Women) runs a support group for mothers whose daughters were victims of homicide. The women provide support for their grandchildren. Donations: Send to Instituto Chihuahuense de la Mujer, 16 de Septiembre #1220, Colonia Partido Romero, Ciudad Juarez, Chih. CP 32030, Mexico.

Amigos de las Mujeres de Juárez (Friends of the Women of Juárez) is an advocacy group based in Las Cruces, N.M. Web site: www.amigosdemujeres.org. The group works to end crimes against women and support victims’ families in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua city. Information: [email protected].

The nonprofit group works with Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (May Our Daughters Return Home) and Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters). Donations to these two groups can be made through Amigos. Make checks or money orders payable to Amigos de las Mujeres de Juárez, P.O. Box 2449, Mesilla Park, NM 88047. Provide the name of the group that should receive the funds.

For information about the Amigos pin featured in the design of the Orange County Register’s Juárez project go to: www.amigosdemujeres.org/sale.htm

Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (May Our Daughters Return Home) is a coalition of families and friends of women who have disappeared, founded in 2001 by Juárez teacher Marisela Ortiz and mother Norma Andrade. Web site: www.mujeresdejuarezjuarez.org. E-mail: [email protected]. Phone: 011-52-656-620-4599, 011-52-656-687-8026 or 011-52-656-624-4457.

Voces Sin Eco (Voices Without Echo) works to create a greater awareness of the killings. Founded by the sister of victim Maria Sagrario Gonzalez. Web site: www.angelfire.com/in2/qualm/voces.html

Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters) is a support group created in 2002 by city of Chihuahua mothers, their legal advocates and supporters. Web site: espanol.geocities.com/justhijas

Amnesty International USA’s work on Ciudad Juárez can be found at www.amnestyusa.org. Amnesty has recruited actors such as Salma Hayek, Mira Sorvino and Esai Morales to promote awareness. The group recently unveiled a mural honoring the missing women of Juárez and Chihuahua city. To raise funds for its work on Juárez, Amnesty sells a handmade, limited-edition silk solidarity scarf designed by artist Ame Pitt. To order the scarves, $100 each, call Bonnie Abaunza or Mario Tafur, (310) 815-0450.

The Juárez Women/Mujeres De Juárez Project is a Web site offering information about the killings, including a time line, media events and articles. Collaborators include El Paso Times reporter Diana Washington Valdez, author of the upcoming “Harvest of Women,” and Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez, author of “Huesos en el Desierto (Bones in the Desert).” Both books are about the killings. Web site: juarezwomen.com/Background.html

V-Day: The nonprofit group dedicated to ending violence against women organized an event to support the victims’ families in Ciudad Juárez. See www.vday.org/contents/vday/aboutvday. To order a V-day T-shirt dedicated to the women of Ciudad Juárez:

Information on virtual sit-ins, U.S. vigils, marches, performance protests and street protests tied to the killings can be found at www.thing.net/~cocofusco/dignaeng2.html

A bibliography compiled by Mike Amezcua for the UCLA conference “Maquiladora Murders” can be found at chavez.ucla.edu. The Web site includes a list of books; journal, magazine and newspaper articles; films and videos; and online articles and research papers about the disappearances.

To learn more about the maquiladora connection to the killings, go to the Maquila Solidarity Network Web site: www.maquilasolidarity.org/aboutus.htm

The Latin American Network Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin offers articles and history of the women who were killed at lanic.utexas.edu/la/mexico/humanrights

The Frida Kahlo Theater plans to relaunch in August its play on the Ciudad Juárez disappearances and killings. Information: (213) 382-8133 or www.fridakahlotheater.org/

To learn more about protests, marches or caravans from Orange County and the Southern California area, contact Carolina Sarmiento at the Centro Cultural de Mexico at (714) 953-9305 or go to www.el-centro.org.

Justice for the Women of Juárez in Los Angeles is a volunteer-based organization that assists Juarez families and raises funds for their projects, including DNA testing.Contact: Lorena Mendez, (818) 842-3895 or [email protected] More information: www.justiceforthewomenofjuarez.org.

ViejasKandalosas is a binational collective of artists dedicated to the denouncement of injustice and violence through art and action. Contact: Azul Luna, (323) 664-8455 or [email protected].

To learn more about upcoming Juárez-related events, contact Claire Droney from Code Pink Women for Peace in Venice at (310) 827-3046. Code Pink is a grass-roots peace and social-justice movement initiated by women. The group joined Amnesty International and V-Day to organize an international demonstration Feb. 14 for the women of Juárez. Information: www.codepinkalert.org.

The Coalition on Violence Against Women and Families on the Border, based in El Paso, Texas, is a binational coalition of students, university faculty members, labor activists and community residents working to create systemic policy changes along the U.S.-Mexico border. It promotes the development of a human-rights agreement between the countries. Contact: Irasema Coronado or Victor Muñoz at [email protected]

For more information about Lourdes Portillo’s documentary “Señorita Extraviada,” about the disappearances in Ciudad Juárez go to www.pbs.orgor lourdesportillo.com. To set up a screening of “Señorita Extraviada” in your city, see www.mexicosolidarity.org/senorita_info.html.

To write Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Mexico’s attorney general or Chihuahua’s governor, go to takeaction.amnestyusa.org.

To write Mexican President Vicente Fox via Amnesty International, go to takeaction.amnestyusa.org.

California Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, introduced a congressional resolution calling on the U.S. government to support those seeking justice in Ciudad Juárez. To send a letter to your representative, go to takeaction.amnestyusa.org.

To support human-rights activists such as Evangelina Arce in Ciudad Juárez, see takeaction.amnestyusa.org.

Notes: Suspects

Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif, Egyptian immigrant with arrest record of assaulting women in the United States, charged in 1995 with murders of seven women in Ciudad Juárez. Convicted in 1999 of murdering Elizabeth Castro, 17. Conviction overturned in 2000 and other charges dropped. He remains in a Mexican prison pending an appeal. He maintains his innocence. In 2003, charged with seven more murders he’s suspected of commissioning from prison.

Seven members of “Los Rebeldes” (“the Rebels”), nightclub workers said to belong to a Juárez gang, were arrested in 1996 and remain in prison. Sharif was accused of commissioning the murders, but the suspects said they are not guilty and were tortured into confessing by authorities. The gang’s suspected leader, Sergio Armendariz, was a nightclub security guard.

Jesus Manuel Guardado, bus driver known as “El Tolteca” (“The Toltec”), arrested in 1999 in the kidnapping, rape and choking of a 14-year-old girl who survived. Guardado named three other bus drivers, and another man, Victor Moreno, who were arrested and charged with seven murders each. Agustin Toribio Castillo, Bernardo Hernandez Fernandez and Jose Gaspar Ceballos said they are not guilty and were forced into signing confessions by authorities. None have been sentenced.

Victor Javier Garcia Uribe and Gustavo Gonzalez Meza, bus drivers imprisoned in 2001 in connection with the murders of eight women whose bodies were dumped in a Juárez cotton field. They say they were tortured by authorities into confessing to the murders. Gonzalez died in prison. Garcia remains in prison waiting for his case to be tried.

Cynthia Kiecker, Minnesota woman who lives in Mexico, and her husband, Ulysis Perzabal, arrested last year in the slaying of a woman in the city of Chihuahua, where the serial killings are believed to have spread. Kiecker and her husband say they were tortured by authorities into confessing.

Details on slaying cases
Investigators say no women who have been killed in 2004 fit the profile of the victims of possible serial killers.
To see the list of slain women that has been kept by Casa Amiga domestic-violence center see www.casa-amiga.org/English%202002.doc and www.casa-amiga.org/English%202002.doc

2005 Dart Award Preliminary and Final Judges


Robert Jamieson
Robert Jamieson, metro columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, began as a P-I reporter in 1991, covering education, city hall and general assignment beats. His stories include the crash of Alaska Flight 261, the fatal police shooting of David Walker, a mentally ill man whose death sparked police to adopt less lethal weapons, and the local Mardi Gras riots. Jamieson’s first news jobs were for the Wall Street Journal and the Oakland Tribune. He has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Best of the West journalist competition. In 1997 Jamieson received a fellowship to visit quake-ravaged Kobe, Japan. He also received a Casey Foundation fellowship and in 2004 was one of five from the Seattle area representing Rotary International on a goodwill trip to East Africa.

Michele Klevens
Michele Klevens, a licensed clinical psychotherapist, has worked with veterans for over 20 years. In addition to private practice, she is currently a research health science specialist at the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System. She provides comprehensive assessments and treatment for recently returning veterans, veterans and their families from prior conflicts, and non-veteran combat and civilian trauma survivors. Klevens has been adjunct faculty and staff psychotherapist at the University of Washington Hall Health Center, where she was the administrative lead for the Same Day Need Crisis team. She is a certified sexual assault counselor and a former counselor for at-risk teens in Los Angeles High School.

Marc Ramirez
Marc Ramirez is a reporter for the Seattle Times. Since 1996 he has written news and features on topics ranging from social, cultural and spiritual issues to youth, recreation and travel. In Fall 2001, he reported on Cuban hip-hop as social movement as a recipient of the Pew International Reporting Fellowship. Ramirez worked for the Times from 1990-94 as a Sunday magazine staff writer and education reporter before spending two-plus years with the Phoenix New Times, the alternative weekly in his hometown. Before completing his Master’s in Journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, he reported for the Phoenix Gazette and interned with the Wall Street Journal.

Karen Rathe
Karen Rathe is a full-time lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Communication, where she teaches community journalism news lab, copyediting and design. She has also taught journalism at Seattle University and Shoreline Community College. A newspaper journalist for 20 years, Rathe was a copy editor, editorial page editor and designer for the Seattle Times, a copy editor and regional correspondent for the Oregonian, and a reporter, editor and photographer for the Headlight-Herald in Tillamook, Oregon. Rathe completed a 1986 Poynter Institute fellowship in newspaper management and entrepreneurship.

Edward Rynearson, M.D.
Edward Rynearson, M.D. is co-founder and Medical Director of Separation and Loss Services and the Homicide Support Project at Virginia Mason Medical Center. Since 1980 he has been an examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and a clinical professor of Psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of the book, Retelling Violent Death (Brunner/Mazel), and has published extensively in professional journals on the synergism of trauma and loss and the treatment of traumatic grief, particularly through the use of imagery. In 1984 Rynearson was both a Royal Australia-New Zealand College of Psychiatry fellow and an American Psychiatric Association fellow, and in 1988 a fellow of the American College of Psychiatry.



The final judge panel consists of three journalists, a victim/survivor representative, and the president-elect of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. Judges look for entries that go beyond the ordinary in reporting on victims of violence, taking into account all aspects of an entry.

Tom Arviso, Jr.
Tom Arviso, Jr. is the publisher of the Navajo Times and CEO of the Navajo Times Publishing Company, Inc. A staunch believer and advocate for press freedom, he fought many battles with tribal leaders and officials that resulted in the incorporation of the independent Navajo Times Publishing Company. Arviso was a sports writer and news reporter with the Navajo Times TODAY. Prior to that, he wrote for The Arizona Indian. Arviso is a former board vice president and treasurer of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), and is a member of the Arizona Newspapers Association Board of Directors. In 1997 Arviso received NAJA’s Wassaja Award for extraordinary service to Native journalism, and in 1998 he was honored by the Arizona Newspapers Association with the Freedom of Information Award. Arviso received a John S. Knight Fellowship in Journalism in 2000-2001.

Clementina Chéry
Clementina Chéry is director of outreach services for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, past president of the National Coalition for Survivors of Violence Prevention, and founder of the Survivors Outreach Services Program in Boston. She and her husband formed the Peace Institute to honor their fifteen-year-old son, who was shot and killed on his way to a Christmas party given by a group called Teens Against Gang Violence. The Louis D. Brown Peace Curriculum, developed for students from kindergarten to high school, was commended in 1996 by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno as contributing Boston’s reduction in juvenile crime. Chéry’s many awards include Lady in the Order of St Gregory the Great (bestowed by Pope John Paul), the Search for Common Ground 2001 International Service Award; and the American Red Cross 1998 Clara Barton Humanitarian Award.

Gretel Daugherty
Gretel Daugherty is a photojournalist at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in Colorado. As a freelance photographer, she worked on assignment for the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Ladies Home Journal, and other publications. Daugherty has won first place awards for her photography from the Colorado Associated Press and the Colorado Press Association. A 2000 Dart Ochberg Fellow, she has reported on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the rights of military veterans who suffer from PTSD. Daugherty represented the National Press Photographers Association in conversations involving media and the public after the Columbine shootings, and received a Casey fellowship in 2002. She is currently the national Media/Government Committee co-chair for NPPA, and project coordinator of NPPA’s support network for journalists who have experienced trauma.

Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D.
Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D. is president-elect of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, a professor of clinical psychology, and Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center (NCVC) at the Medical University of South Carolina. In 1974 he was a founding member of People Against Rape. His research interests include measuring the prevalence and mental health impact of rape and other potentially traumatic events. Kilpatrick has over 130 peer-reviewed publications and over 60 book chapters and monographs. In 1990, President Bush presented Kilpatrick with the President’s Award for Outstanding Service for Victims of Crime, the nation’s highest award in the crime victims’ field. For the past 20 years he has served on South Carolina’s Crime Victim Advisory Board. He also serves as President of the Section on Clinical Emergencies and Crises for the American Psychological Association.

Sharon Schmickle
Sharon Schmickle is a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She worked as a war correspondent in Iraq in 2003; in 2004 she wrote an in-depth report on Afghanistan’s efforts to recover from a quarter century of war. In 2000 Schmickle won a McClatchy President’s Award for a special report from Japan on the global controversy over genetically modified foods. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1996 for an investigative series on federal judges and U.S. Supreme Court Justices; in that same year she was named Washington Correspondent of the year by the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists, for her reporting on the impact of the federal budget on one Minnesota community. Her other journalism awards include an Overseas Press Club first place in 1994 and five first-place prizes from the Minnesota Associated Press Association.