EL PASO, Texas — The University of Texas at El Paso is mourning the death of two students who were gunned down in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Tuesday evening after they crossed the border on their way home.
The UTEP community was invited to a memorial service Monday at 2 p.m. to be held just outside of the College of Business Administration where Manuel Acosta Villalobos, 25, and Eder Diaz Sotero, 23, both studied. The two students lived in Juarez and commuted to the El Paso campus to attend classes, university officials said.
The two were driving at about 8 p.m. when gunmen fired 36 rounds at their car, hitting both men multiple times, Chihuahua state police said. Acosta died at the scene and Diaz at a Juarez hospital Wednesday morning.
“Our hearts are heavy today with the news of the deaths of UTEP students Manuel Acosta and Eder Diaz. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these two men as they deal with the tragic loss of their loved ones,” UTEP President Diana Natalicio said Wednesday.
UTEP’s executive vice president, Richard Adauto, said that students who cross the border to attend class at UTEP face the risk of violence every day. “That’s what makes it, in some sense, courageous for these kids, that everyday they come back and forth and they understand the risk that they run into.”
Acosta was a senior computer information systems major set to graduate next spring and Diaz was a sophomore pre-business major. Acosta was just weeks away from taking a new full-time job with a local company in El Paso. Both students were U.S. citizens.
“When I heard these two UTEP students were shot, it made me think on how it can really happen to anyone,” UTEP student Cindy Pallares said. “It has become very unsafe. I think it’s very sad that the violence in Juarez keeps getting worse and people are just getting desensitized to what is happening over there. More and more people are getting killed and innocent people keep dying.”
In order to prevent such tragedies, the university made strict changes to its International Travel Policy that took effect May 20, 2010. It reads, “All travel to countries (including Mexico) for which a travel warning has been issued by the U.S. Department of State is automatically suspended, unless an exception is recommended by the institution’s International Oversight Committee, and the exception receives final approval.”
The provisions also require international travelers (faculty, staff and students) to register with International SOS for university-sponsored trips prior to departure, regardless of destination. Also, it explicitly states, “University-sponsored travel to Mexico is currently prohibited. This restriction also applies to day trips into Cd. Juarez.”
Though travel to Mexico is discouraged, it is inevitable for many UTEP students. Approximately 10 per cent of the 22,000 UTEP students live in Juarez and commute to classes at the UTEP El Paso campus. Students from Juarez have been attending UTEP since 1914.
In May of this year, Alejandro Ruiz Salazar was the first UTEP student killed in the wake of the drug war violence. Ruiz also commuted from Juarez to El Paso.
With the deaths of Acosta and Diaz, six Americans have been killed in Juarez in the last six days. Luis Carlos Araiza, 15, and Joanna Herrera, 27, were shot in their car while driving near the Zaragoza international bridge Saturday. Edgar Lopez, 35, was killed at a residence on Saturday as well. Lorena Izaguirre, 24, was killed at a tortilla shop Friday.