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March 25th, 2009
02:08 PM ET

Ambush on a Mexican highway

Program Note: Tune in tonight for Randi Kaye's full report on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

A federal police officer guards a checkpoint earlier this month in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

A federal police officer guards a checkpoint earlier this month in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Randi Kaye | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

It’s not every day I start an interview for our show, with the people I'm talking to already in tears.

That’s what happened yesterday when I interviewed a San Diego woman and her husband about how they were ambushed on a Mexican highway - with their son and daughter in the car.

It happened a year and a half ago but they are still haunted by it. Afterward, Chris Hall was awake for two days straight. Their 21-year-old daughter was sleeping 20 minutes a night. Debra Hall still doesn’t sleep well, and when she fills up at a gas station, she locks herself in her car. She’s still terrified.

Debra and Chris Hall were high school sweethearts and they’ve been crossing the border into Mexico for 26 years together . But after the ambush, a family vacation there in November 2007 was their last.

The couple walked me through the details of this terrifying ambush.

It was a cold and foggy night, just before midnight.

They were pulled over by a car with flashing lights about seven miles from the U.S. border. They were on their way home from vacation and a big car race in Cabo they attended every year.

Ten men, dressed in black, popped out of the two cars and pointed guns at their heads. Debra says she’ll never forget the tone of her son’s voice when he said, “Oh God, please no God.” She told me if she lives the next 100 years she will hear that in her head. He had just turned 16.

The men took their jewelry and wallets and then demanded to know where the race car was. You see, the family’s truck was hauling an empty car trailer so the men must’ve thought they were a good target. They could trade the race car for drugs or cash.

When the family couldn’t deliver the goods, the Halls were forced back into their truck and driven up into the Mexican hills. Here is where they thought they would die. They were told to kneel, face down in a ditch.

The men covered them with a sleeping bag and Deborah thought it was to prevent blood splatter on the men’s clothing. Chris told me he tried to cover his daughter, then 21, with his body. He whispered to her, “I’m sorry.” Then, suddenly, silence.

As the Halls lay waiting for a bullet, they realized the men had left in their truck. They quickly and quietly tried to work their way back to civilization. It took them two hours before they finally found a stranger who called Baja police. The police drove them back over to the U.S. side of the border.

The Hall family had no money and no ID at this point so they borrowed a quarter from a stranger to use a payphone and call a relative to come get them. The men who ambushed them were never caught and the scariest part is they still have the Halls' home address from the drivers licenses they stole.

The Halls have put a security system into their home, but they still fear these guys will slip across the border and find them. They filed police reports with both San Diego police and the Mexican Consulate, but they don’t believe anyone even looked for their attackers.

And the nightmare continues. A few months ago Chris’ truck was found near Yuma, Arizona. They say they were told it had been used to transport illegal immigrants.

And Debra says she got a call recently from the U.S. State Department about a suicide in Mexico they thought was her husband. She says they told her that her husband had hung himself, that the dead man had her husband’s drivers license in his pocket. It obviously wasn’t her husband but it was Chris Hall’s driver’s license.

And the Halls say someone is still charging on their credit cards which they canceled. Shoes and clothing were charged in Tijuana along with a $2500 dollar dinner.

This whole mess cost the Hall family about $120,000, some of which is covered by insurance, but they say what they’ve really lost is their innocence and peace of mind.

They say they’ll never return to the vacation spot they loved and visited for a quarter century, and they don’t think others should either.

In fact, they know they’re putting themselves at risk but told me they wanted to share their story to warn other families, especially college kids who think Mexico is where they should go for spring break.

They’ve found a new place to vacation - Hawaii. They’re heading there soon to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and, in a way, to celebrate life, which was so close to being cut short on a deserted Mexican highway.


Filed under: Mexico • Randi Kaye
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Juan carlos

    hmm....That families experience was horrific and no human should go through that...
    But it does serve them right for their excessive ignorance.......They are extremely lucky they are living...
    Their mistake was driving at NIGHT in a 250,000+ dollar Camper trailer with Motorcycle logos all over it!!..........like driving a Van with a sign on its side that says "Diamond & Jewelry Shop"!....duhhh!

    ......My experience...NEVER drive at night in Mexico (lots of local drunk drivers in Mex & Land pirates, I've seen people die right in front of me), DON'T Draw attention to yourself, DO blend in with the culture as much as you can! RESPECT locals and language!!!.........just some good ol solid advice in a country of Chaos..

    March 26, 2009 at 5:23 pm |
  2. Gustav from San Diego

    This is a terrible incident!

    As other people comenting here, I have been traveling to Mexico for over 20 years, and have met amazing people there.

    As far as the news people can tell, an incident like this has happend only once to an American family in Mexico... or at least in Baja!

    However, these incidents are more frequent in places like New Orleans, or even New York.... I think we should take this into perspective.
    I know its fun to critize Mexico and all, but lets hope the news people are a bit more fair.

    March 26, 2009 at 8:58 am |
  3. Tina

    This is a great story, Randi, and I really hope that this will warn Americans and other foreigners against traveling to that country. I think it will also help greatly if the show also features the names, faces, backgrounds, families, connections, etc., of these cartels, not just those in Mexico but elsewhere, so that the world will know the faces of evil behind this war.

    March 26, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  4. Laredo Mom

    Living in a border town, I grew up with Mexico being more than just our southern neighbor - it was part of my hometown community. Now, not only do I not cross the bridge into Nuevo Laredo, I can't feel safe in certain areas of my own city. I am very particular about when and where I go out but even then, I'm not even sure I "know" my neighbor across the street! Fortunately, I live next door to a Border Patrol agent and an Army Reserve guy. I pray everyday for the innocents.

    March 25, 2009 at 5:14 pm |
  5. Sergio

    This is very sad but it happens in Mexico all the time. I was stabbed on my way back to the states but was able to run away safe to the border into the U.S. There were a lot of very young mexican kids asking for money at mexican side of the border. I felt i wanted to help them and I did give them some change. And then I said to myself: These are the kids that will be stabbding people for food in the future. My only wish is that some day the mexican government will be overthrown by a more just govermnent.

    March 25, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Tracy

    What a horrible recounting. I hope people understand that they really need to start putting some perspective on life in the US.

    March 25, 2009 at 3:40 pm |
  7. JoAnne

    It's getting worse and worse! This is making me ill!! How dare they, how dare they do that to this innocent family. I am so sorry for what they encountered and what they have to live with for the rest of thier lives!
    I do hope they will enjoy thier new destination without worry!
    Sincerely, JoAnne

    March 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Neo

    That's scary but they are so lucky. I thought Mexico was doing ok. Weren't they building gated communities and attracting a lot of real estate interest? It's so sad that b/c Calderon declared a war on drugs that things got worse. I hope this family is in protective housing. They should receive some sort of financial assistance to cover their expenses.

    March 25, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  9. patty deborn bray

    This is so incomprehensible and wrong! Mexico was a wonderful country where I have traveled, for 25 years. No more. This is a horrible story. One of which I never want to be victim. I am sorry for the family. I can't even imagine how they feel. Sad for the country to be held hostage by drug runners. So sad and stupid to ruin a country like this..

    March 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Cindy

    Randi,
    This is a horrific story indeed. I can't imagine the terror that the Hall's faced thinking they were about to be murdered. Looking forward to seeing this report tonight.

    Cindy..Ga.

    March 25, 2009 at 2:39 pm |