By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010; A08
Assailants gunned down three people returning from a party at a U.S. Consulate employee's home in the Mexican city of Juarez, including a pregnant U.S. government employee and her husband, in two attacks a few minutes apart that prompted a furious response from the White House on Sunday.
The White House said President Obama was "deeply saddened and outraged" by the slayings, which occurred in broad daylight. They appeared to be the latest sign of the surge of drug violence in Mexico in recent years, which has claimed thousands of lives in border areas such as Ciudad Juarez. But it was unusual for U.S. citizens to be slain -- particularly an American government employee.
State Department officials said authorities were still investigating whether the victims were targeted by drug gangs, but it did not appear that the slain consular employee was involved in counternarcotics work. Her in-laws identified her as Lesley A. Enriquez, 35, of El Paso, just across the border. She was a locally hired employee of the consulate whose job involved helping U.S. citizens, American officials said.
Her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, worked for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, according to his brother, Reuben Redelfs.
"We do not have any indication at this point they were targeted" for their work or their links to the U.S. Consulate, said one State Department official. Another U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is underway, said the case "appears to be one of mistaken identity."
About the same time that Enriquez and her husband were killed, gunmen also fatally shot the third victim, a Mexican man married to a Mexican employee at the consulate. U.S. officials did not identify him.
Even the hard-bitten local police in Juarez were moved by the deaths of the American couple, according to the Juarez newspaper El Diario. When the officers arrived at the victims' bullet-riddled Toyota van, they discovered a baby girl crying disconsolately in the back seat, the newspaper reported. At first, the police thought the infant was wounded, but she was unharmed. The 7-month-old girl was the couple's first child, and they expected another in five months, family members said.
"This is shocking to everyone," Reuben Redelfs, the brother of the victim, told The Washington Post in a telephone interview from El Paso. "People need to know what's going on down here. It's become a war zone. . . . It's just horrible what's happening."
According to Diario de Juarez, gunmen firing bullets chased the couple's white van shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, and it swerved out of control, crashing into oncoming traffic near the bridge linking the two countries.
About the same time, the third victim, the husband of a consulate employee, was killed as he traveled in another part of Juarez in his late-model Honda, according to Diario de Juarez. The gunmen boxed in the man's car, shot him and wounded his two children, according to Reuters.
The White House statement extended Obama's condolences to the victims' families and vowed to "work tirelessly to bring their killers to justice."
The attacks occurred as the State Department was taking the unusual step of authorizing U.S. government employees at six consulates in northern Mexico to send their families out of the region because of the bloodshed. That announcement was in the works before the three killings, officials said.
Obama's statement emphasized that the U.S. government would continue its support for Mexico's fight against drug traffickers, which is being backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in American equipment and training.
At least 18,000 people have been killed in Mexico since December 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed the army to battle increasingly powerful traffickers.
Researcher Christian Hettinger contributed to this report.