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Horror in Mexico: 'It's happening to us'

April 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Is it safe south of the border? A California couple was robbed in Mexico, and the girlfriend raped. They revealed disturbing details of their frightening ordeal to Robert Holguin, who travelled to Tijuana to talk to officials about the escalating violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the sharp drop in tourism. These two seasoned travelers say they're never going back to Mexico.Pat Weber has been surfing up and down the West Coast for more than 30 years. He runs a surf academy out of Carlsbad State Park, north of San Diego. Since the 1990s, he's been making trips south of the border teaching novice surfers on Mexican beaches.

But those days are over.

"You can shear a sheep countless times. You can skin it only once," said Pat.

Four months ago, Pat and his girlfriend Lori decided to jump in their RV and make an impromptu road trip to a remote beach in Baja. It was a spur of the moment decision that changed their lives forever.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, this is what you read about. This is what happens to other people. And now it's happening to us.'" said Pat.

They were driving on dirt roads south of Ensenada. It was dark and they were lost, so they decided to park the RV and set up camp. That's when they heard a knock at their door.

"When we refused to open up, I never anticipated that gunfire would ensue," said Lori Hoffman.

"I get up from the dinette at the same moment that the guy is stepping back and raising his firearm, and he shoots and it sounds like a canon," said Pat.

"And I'm just thinking, 'You have got to be kidding me,'" said Lori.

"So now glass is flying everywhere and it goes through the light fixture right here," said Pat, who points to the spot in his RV.

They say it was two men wearing matching ski masks and sweaters, and the two started ransacking the RV.

"A couple of laptops, jewelry... Ripped the VCR out of the wall," said Pat.

Then the ordeal took an even more disturbing turn. At gunpoint, one of the men sexually assaulted Lori.

"You know, she was facing me on all fours, and with the guy's gun to my head. And I heard the zipper. And..." Pat shakes his head silently as he thinks about it.

After about an hour, Pat says, the men left carrying off cash and equipment. Pat and Lori drove to the nearest city and filed a police report.

"Pat didn't do anything wrong. I didn't do anything wrong. And we were victims. And I understand that concept quite clearly," said Lori.

Pat and Lori say they're never going back to Mexico, and they're not alone. As a result of escalating violence in U.S.-Mexico border towns, tourism is down sharply. The downtown merchants association in Tijuana says American visits are down 90 percent since 2005.

"The U.S. tourists that come into Mexico can feel totally safe," said Alfredo Arenas of the Baja California state police. Arenas says recent crackdowns on police corruption have resulted in a much safer state.

Arenas says he sympathizes with Pat and Lori, but says crime can happen anywhere at any time.

"Obviously, issues get exploded a lot when it's a U.S. citizen that gets something happen to them on this side of the fence," said Arenas. "Because there's the same cases of Mexican citizens on the other side, but nobody knows. No newscast knows, no newspaper puts it on the newspaper. Except on this side, it gets really big."

Meanwhile, back in Carlsbad Pat and Lori are still coming to terms with their terrifying ordeal.

"We've gotten back to, you know, a normal day," said Lori. "But there are things that still need to be resolved."

The case remains under investigation, and so far there are no suspects. But even if anyone is ever arrested, Pat and Lori say they will not testify if it means returning to Mexico.

 

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