Violence in Mexico changes spring break plans

Cancun beaches may be sparse this year in light of recent violence in Mexico

Published March 15, 2010 11:03PM (EDT)

Marquette University senior Kelly Magennis wasn't even up prepping for the start of the biggest spring break week on Texas' South Padre Island when the first text message arrived from her mom forbidding her from crossing into Mexico.

"I said, 'don't worry, I didn't even bring my passport,'" Magennis said, surrounded by several thousand like-minded spring breakers on the beach Monday.

Whether it was grisly murders of three people with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, over the weekend or months of reports about the bloody drug war south of the border, students at the popular spot just off the southern tip of Texas said they were avoiding the short drive to Mexico. For many, parents' admonitions short circuited spring break plans before they began.

"Parents should not allow their children to visit these Mexican (border) cities because their safety cannot be guaranteed," Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said in a warning issued March 4.

The alert applied specifically to border towns and did not include other popular Mexican destinations such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, but University of North Texas student Katie-Ross Ward said the strong warning closed the deal for her parents.

"My parents wouldn't let me go (to Mexico) because I have blonde hair and blue eyes," said Ward, 18. "They said I'd get kidnapped."

The U.S. State Department issued its own warning Sunday, a day after an American consulate employee, her husband and the husband of a Mexican employee were gunned down in separate incidents in Juarez. Suspected drug gangsters chased down and opened fire on two SUVs carrying the families from a children's party, killing the adults and injuring two children.

"Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations," the government warning said. Families of U.S. government employees in several northern Mexico cities were authorized to leave the country until April 12.

Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Texas week -- the biggest week of the collegiate vacation season on the island -- was packed and he couldn't tell if the violence in Mexico was impacting the island's business one way or another.

Once advertised heavily as the home of the "Two Nation Vacation," South Padre Island has worked in recent years to offer everything students want on the island so they don't feel the need to head to Mexico.

Still, Quandt said it's sad that students now are less likely to get even that brief taste of another culture. While some were just seeking a lower drinking age, some from other parts of the country sought out a new experience. "A lot of it is just to say you did it (went to Mexico)," he said.

But this year, students appear to have received the message about the risks of cross-border travel, Quandt said. "It's just not happening."

By Christopher Sherman

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