In some ways, Oscar Reynoso was lucky. He stayed in the U.S., and he survived his ordeal.
The same can't be said for Sergio Saucedo. He was taken from his El Paso-area home on Sept. 3, 2009, by two Mexican nationals and a third man. The kidnapping was retaliation for a seizure by Border Patrol agents of 670 pounds of marijuana from a tractor-trailer at a checkpoint in Sierra Blanca a month earlier.
Saucedo, who had a long criminal record, was bound with duct tape in his Horizon City home as his wife looked on. He was taken out the back door to a driveway, where he was stuffed into a dark SUV with no license plates and driven across the border.
It would be his last trip to Ciudad Juarez.
Saucedo's body was found several days later dumped in the street with his severed arms placed on top of a cardboard sign on his chest. The killers stuffed plastic bags into Saucedo's mouth and taped his eyes.
Home invasions and kidnappings also plague Phoenix. In 2008, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, there were 368 reported kidnappings in Phoenix, up from 160 in 1999. More than 90 percent are drug-related.
To combat the rising crime, the Phoenix PD created its Home Invasion Kidnapping Enforcement Unit (HIKE) last year. Prior to that, home invasions were investigated by the robbery unit within the violent crimes bureau.
"The kidnappings and home invasions are by organized crews, and they seem to mimic tactics that are being used in Mexico," says Lt. Lauri Burgett, who oversees the HIKE unit. "I definitely see a growth in home invasions."
Victims are reluctant to come forward. And perpetrators armed with enough information about their subject can extort upwards of $1 million, depending on the importance of the victim in the trafficking hierarchy.
"They're after product or they're after money," Burgett adds. "They hold them and force the family to come forward with those things."
And if people don't pay they may be disappeared by the cartel. Last October, Phoenix police responded to a home after a 32-year-old Latino man ran onto a nearby school yard with duct tape still attached to his body and told the children that some men had threatened to kill him.
Investigators discovered that the man had lost a $500,000 narcotic load. When he didn't arrange payment, the cartel responded with a home invasion.
His attackers brought heavy equipment to the man's house and, as he sat bound to a chair, began cutting the foundation of the converted garage to dig his grave. Police arrived to find a hole six feet across and five feet deep with a smaller hole at the bottom just wide enough for feet. Fresh concrete had been poured into the hole.
Burgett says this case shows how ruthless, methodical, and prepared cartel home invasion crews can be. She advises patrol units responding to home invasions to take extra precautions. These include setting up a wider perimeter, and approaching the home as you would any other high-risk encounter that may result in a gunfight.
"Approach the scene with the knowledge that somebody probably has surveillance and firepower that's pretty good," Burgett recommends.