By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010; A07
Dozens of officials from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other U.S. agencies joined an investigation Monday into the killings of three people tied to the U.S. Consulate in the Mexican city of Juarez, scrambling to determine whether the slayings marked an escalation in the region's drug war or were simply cases of mistaken identity, officials said.
Lesley Enriquez, 35, who worked in the consulate's citizens services section, was believed to be the first American consulate employee to have been killed in apparent Mexican drug violence since 1985, when DEA agent Enrique Camarena was tortured and murdered.
Enriquez and her American husband were gunned down near the Santa Fe bridge into the United States about 2 p.m. Saturday, as their infant daughter cried in the back seat, unharmed but terrified. About the same time, assailants in a different part of the city killed the husband of a Mexican who works at the consulate.
That victim, identified in Mexican media as Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, had been at the same children's birthday party as Enriquez and her husband, Arthur Redelfs. The American couple and the Mexican victim had been traveling in white vehicles.
FBI spokeswoman Andrea Simmons in El Paso, across the border from Juarez, said investigators had not determined the motive for the shootings.
But, she said, "at this point we don't have any indication the victims were targeted because of their employment at the consulate."
In a sign of how seriously the Mexican government regards the case, Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez traveled to Juarez on Monday to oversee the investigation, according to El Diario, a newspaper in the city. Mexican President Felipe Calderón and President Obama expressed indignation at the murders.
U.S. agencies, including the FBI, DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are assisting Mexican authorities by providing intelligence and interviewing witnesses in the United States, Simmons said.
A Mexican official familiar with the cases said there were two main lines of investigation: whether the shootings were "a direct message to the U.S." or whether they were instances of mistaken identity. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing.
The U.S. Consulate in Juarez was closed for a Mexican holiday Monday and will remain shut Tuesday "to review its security posture," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Violence involving rival drug gangs has become so severe that the State Department recently authorized U.S. personnel in six consulates in northern Mexico -- including Juarez -- to send their family members out of the area until April 12.
At least 18,000 people have been killed in Mexico since December 2006, when Calderón declared war on the country's drug traffickers. The U.S. government has committed to spending more than $1 billion to assist the Mexican effort.