We have a warning for parents about a disturbing new trend. Drug cartels are seeking younger and younger recruits, and they're finding them in Texas schools. Six of the seven Mexican cartels have established command and control networks in Texas.
A couple of incidents within the last 30 days prompted the warning, but the increased threat began a few years ago.
Last May, it hit home.
That's when Elisabeth Mandala left Kempner High School in Sugar Land for Mexico. She wound up beaten to death in a pick up truck along with two men carrying fake identification. It's believed the violent drug cartels recruited Mandala to smuggle undocumented immigrants across the border.
"The cartel influence is here," said Duane Steen, regional commander for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The DPS is warning parents across the state that children are at risk of being seduced by the cartels that seem to be stepping up their game.
"Sometimes this may be delivering drugs. It may be crossing drugs over from Mexico or involvement in some of the other violent activities," said Steen.
Just last week in a border county officers caught a 12-year-old boy driving a stolen pick up truck with more than 800 pounds of marijuana.
Last month two Texas teens were lured to Mexico where they were kidnapped, beaten, ransomed and released in a remote area along the Rio Grande River. Within the past year, more than 25 juveniles have been arrested for drug trafficking in one Texas border county alone.
"Recruiting is easy for such a vulnerable population," said Kim Ogg, the former gang task force director for the city of Houston.
Ogg suspects the cartels are recruiting through gangs.
"Some see it (the gang) as their family. Some are attracted to the money, drugs, guns, women, and others are attracted because they have family members in gangs and it seems normal," said Ogg.
There are thousands of candidates for recruitment in Houston area schools. They include kids who are U.S. citizens, speak Spanish and can blend in on both sides of the border.
The DPS says parents should pay attention to who their kids are hanging out with since recruiters may not be who you might think.
"The people recruiting them may not be much older, maybe a 16 or 17-year-old, but they're tracking them down, talking to them, telling them how glamorous it is to deal and traffic drugs," said Commander Steen.
What the cartels won't tell recruits is how it all could end with jail, injury or death.
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