Olissa won’t let her daughter in the back yard on her own. Not since a gang of drug traffickers tried to hide from US border patrol agents next to her home.
‘It was terrifying’, she said. ‘They were trying to get into the back door to hide.’
Olissa, of McAllen, Texas, lives two blocks from the border, and her home is less than a mile from the most dangerous Mexican border city, which has a higher murder rate than many war zones.
The city in the state of Tamaulipas has been caught in the bloody vortex of a cartel war since 2010, that has cost the lives of more than 15,000 people, many of whom are innocent civilians cut down in the crossfire.
The local police force was disbanded in 2013 because half of the police officers were killed in the tit-for-tat slaughter. Federal Police and the Mexican military now patrol the city with assault vehicles in armoured trucks.
The grip of gang violence is so bad on Reynosa, which has a population 600,000, that 950 murders were committed in 2013 – a rate of 150 killings per 100,000. In comparison, across Iraq in 2012, the homicide rate was eight per 100,000.
Less than a 10 minute drive away, there were only two murders in McAllen, Hidalgo County, in 2013. But frequently, the Texan residents can hear gunshots at all hours of the day and even spot heavily-armed drug smugglers in their streets after dark.
And ruthless cartels target anyone standing in the way of their miserable business.
‘The cartels pay a bounty of $20,000 for a US border agent, dead or alive’, a reporter in Tamaulipas, who wished to remain anonymous because of fears of retribution, told MailOnline. ‘As the business of trafficking drugs gets harder, the cartels are willing to take more and more extreme steps to move their product into the United States’.
‘I would never cross the border into Mexico, it’s unbelievably dangerous over there’, Olissa said.
Despite the police arriving within minutes to stop the traffickers in her garden, she says the experience left her traumatised and terrified for her family’s safety.
‘Those criminals make a lot of money from human trafficking,’ she told MailOnline. ‘I’m terrified for my baby living so close to the border.’
Reynosa visually bears the scars of its violent history. Public buildings are riddled with bullet holes and covered by cartel graffiti, and nearly half the city’s storefronts have been abandoned because business owners have fled from cartel extortion.
After dark the streets are empty, except for pistol-toting cartel lookouts whispering into their radios.
‘I regularly hear gunshots being fired from my bedroom’,’ said Hidalgo County resident Suehay, who has lived on the US-Mexico border all her life. They can go off at any time, but it’s far more common to hear them on weekends and public holidays.’
Suehay has family in Reynosa and used to visit regularly. However, since her uncle was murdered by cartel killers three years ago after speaking out against the violence, she says she has been too terrified to go back.
‘You gamble with your life every time you cross the border’, she told MailOnline. ‘I worry so much about my family but there’s nothing I can do’.
Despite the threats, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra and his team say they’re on top of the situation.
‘We’ve got a good relationship with our local community, who have recently been instrumental in tipping us off when it comes to events at the border,’ said Deputy Sheriff J.P. Rodriguez.
A 2014 study by research company Gallup named McAllen as the city with the highest rates of fear for safety after dark in the whole of the United States.
It found less than half of residents were comfortable outside their homes after dark , despite the fact it had a lower violent crime rate than the US overall in 2012. More than 30 per cent of residents lived below the poverty line that year.
The US State Department warns against all-but essential travel to the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
It says: ‘Throughout the state violent crime, including homicide, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion and sexual assault pose significant safety risks.
‘Law Enforcement is non-existent in many parts of Tamaulipas and violent conflicts can occur in all parts of the region and at all times of day’.
‘The cartel armies number in their thousands’, said the Tamaulipas reporter, ‘and they’re fighting a war with anyone who gets in their way.’
More than 600,000 federal crimes were reported in Tamaulipas state last year. There is a daily average of 6.8 homicides, 40% of which are concentrated in Reynosa. Some 2,500 people are murdered in the state annually.
On the day MailOnline visited Reynosa, four murders were committed. Two victims were 18-year-old girls who had been kidnapped, raped and then forced to consume rat poison.
Read more: dailymail.co.uk