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Police urge public to be vigilant after threats
By Jose L. Medina Sun-News reporter



LAS CRUCES — Many Las Cruces residents said Saturday they will go about their normal routines, a day after it was learned that letters sent to city officials and the Sun-News threatened random shootings if a large ransom was not paid.

Vendors at the Downtown Farmer's Market said it was business as usual, and while the extortion threat was a topic of conversation, there was no sense of anxiety.

"You're going to have people make threats like that. It's not like you're not going to be observant," vendor Joe Porras said.

Las Cruces police were tightlipped Saturday following a Friday night news conference to warn residents of the threat.

"There's nothing new to talk about at this time," Lt. Randy Lara said Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Lara gave a phone interview to CNN about the letters.

Lara said some people had already been in contact with police.

"It's really about using common sense, being aware of your surroundings and making good decisions," Lara said of safety measures the public is urged to follow.

Friday's letter to the city was the second received by officials in recent weeks. The Sun-News also received a copy of Friday's letter, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was contacted.

The anonymous letter was handwritten in an unusual style of printing. It set a deadline for the city to pay up.

The threat didn't stop people from coming out Saturday to the Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebration in Mesilla.

El Pasoans Gerald Kastler and his wife brought out-of-town friends along.

"I'm not scared," said Kastler. "That's the weirdest thing, threatening a city."

But just to be safe, he did wear a T-shirt with the word TEXAS in large letters.

"Maybe they won't think I'm from Las Cruces," he said.

Still others expressed some reservations.

Lupe Thornton had second thoughts about going to the festival, but her son was playing guitar in the Mariachi Espuelas de Cobre.

"I just said a prayer before coming out here," Thornton said. "I'm going to stay in the back and just stay 30 minutes and then we are out of here."

Police said the investigation as to the source of the letters was ongoing and continued to ask the public to be vigilant. City officials


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said the decision to go public with the threat was an effort to get the public to come forward with information.

In the wake of the threats, New Mexico State University stepped up security at Saturday night's football game against Texas Southern.

"We are taking additional security measures at (Saturday's) game," NMSU Police Deputy Chief Stephen Lopez said, declining to go into detail.

Pahl Shipley, spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, said in a statement that the governor was aware of the threats.

"Gov. Richardson continues to monitor the situation, and the state police are working closely with local authorities and the FBI. The governor stands ready to offer whatever additional assistance may be required."

Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Sonia Diaz has been in contact with City Manager Terrence Moore and the district's security officer has been in touch with police, district spokeswoman Jo Galván said.

The school district will continue operating normally, but principals, as well as school staff, will be asked to be more watchful, Galván said, and she encouraged parents to "be our extra set of eyes."

Lara urged the public to go about their day.

"Don't deviate from your normal activities. ... We'll take care of the investigative end," he said.

Las Crucens said that's exactly what they planned to do.

Manny Casarez, who was helping Saturday with a bake sale outside of Wal-Mart on Walton Boulevard, said threats are made all the time but most you don't hear about.

"You take everything like this with a grain of salt," Casarez said.


Sun-News reporter Renée Ruelas-Venegas contributed to this report.


Jose Medina can be reached at jmedina@lcsun-news.com