Schools in Ciudad Juarez targeted by extortionists

Authorities are beefing up security at schools in this border city after graffiti threatening attacks on students and teachers was scrawled on school grounds, state and local officials said Friday.

Officials have increased police patrols and are installing security cameras to prevent a repeat of last week's spate of threats that targeted five or six primary and secondary schools, said Claudio Gonzalez Ruiz, head of public safety in Ciudad Juarez.

In the messages, extortionists threatened to harm teachers and students if school administrators, or in some cases the teachers themselves, failed to pay up.

At the Rafael Velarde Elementary School, extortionists demanded to be given the 50,000-peso (about $4,000) prize of a fundraising raffle, administrators said. At other schools, messages demanded teachers fork over their Christmas bonuses.

Javier Gonzalez Mocken, who heads the city's education department, declined to provide any details about the exact nature of the threats. While some of the messages were written in graffiti on walls, others were scrawled on signs tacked up on school grounds or telephoned to officials, Gonzalez Mocken said.

Many parents at affected schools picked their children up early after word of the messages spread, and some kept their kids home for days, Gonzalez Mocken said. At one school, only 25 out of 600 students showed up for class the day after it was targeted last week.

"Many of the students were upset, and some of the parents, too, of course," said Gonzalez Mocken. He added that "the situation was brought under control through constant communication (with the families) and by dispatching police to the schools."

Earlier Friday, another state official told The Associated Press that an investigation had determined extortion messages at two schools were hoaxes, probably posted by students as a joke, but Gonzalez Mocken did not mention that as a possibility.

Sitting across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez is Mexico's most dangerous city. Drug violence over the past two years has killed about 5,000 people in the city of 1.3 million inhabitants.

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Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield in Mexico City contributed to this report.