The people of Ascensión fight to save their town

The small town of Ascensión in the crime ridden state of Chihuahua was being terrorized by a gang of kidnappers who were abducting an average of three women per week. The town of 10,000 residents is situated less than fifty miles south of the U.S. border and in the crosshairs of the brutal gangs and cartels who seek to control the smuggling routes. Amid the violence and hopeless anguish, the citizens of Ascensión found the courage to fight back.

According to the El Paso Times, on September 21, a 16 year-old local girl was kidnapped, but this time the people of Ascensió n had finally had enough. Hundreds of local residents driven to action gave chase to the criminals and in a moment of vigilante justice they captured and beat two of the eight kidnapping suspects to death. In a country where violence and corruption are commonplace, the law abiding citizens felt they could no longer trust the government to fulfill its responsibility to protect their lives and property.

The state of Chihuahua has not prosecuted anyone involved in the vigilante action. An estimated 2,000 people were present as either active participants or witnesses to the attack. Soldiers from the local barracks and police moved in to calm the crowd and restore order. Thelma Diaz Salazar, the 16 year-old who had been abducted was rescued and three more of the alleged kidnappers were arrested. The remaining three suspects are still at large.

Today, residents say, they do not want to kill criminals, but they are not going to stand by as townspeople are victimized.

The vigilantes who attacked the alleged kidnapping gang became the police force's helping hand. Because they are allies of law enforcement, people have regained trust in officers, said Arturo Chávez, vice president of the citizen committee involved in a public-safety movement.

His group divided the city into sectors led by eight residents. Another change was a warning system. A siren attached to a police communication tower alerts residents whenever a kidnapping occurs.

"When the siren goes off, all of the townsfolk go out and take places," Chávez said.

Upon instruction, residents block all four entrances to the town. Only a false alarm and a training drill have caused the siren to go off since the mod killings.

After the vigilantes fought to reclaim their town, the city fired the entire police force and replaced them with twenty-six new academy trained officers; they dug a three foot wide by three foot deep moat to prevent criminals from making their escape through the adjoining fields; and installed a telescopic surveillance camera in the town plaza. By working together the citizens and police officers of Ascensión have been instrumental in restoring order to their town. Since that fateful day in September, crime had dropped by seventy percent and there have been no further kidnappings or murders.

Most businesses in the town's center are open. Girls giggle as they play hide and seek in the plaza. Shoe-shine men work their booths in the afternoon while their clients sit and read newspapers.

Elementary school teachers gathered on a recent afternoon for a traditional Christmas celebration known as a posada.

"A party like this back in September? Forget about it," Catalina Fernandez said.

Gradually, life is returning to normal in Ascensión. The people of this small town in Northern Mexico have learned that freedom requires constant vigilance and sacrifice, but it is well worth the effort.