Migrants at another shelter said theyd been instructed to venture outside past a cartel lookout whos wearing a hoodie and toting a radio only when necessary.
They are the owners around here, said Sahira Avilez, a 28-year-old Honduran migrant, nodding toward the gang member.
Hector Silva, a pastor who runs the Way of Life migrant shelter, said Reynosa residents knew not to call the police or the army when cartel gunmen appeared. The gang learns of the calls immediately.
We hear gunfights every day. Do you see that helicopter? Silva said, signaling an army aircraft overhead. Theres probably a firefight over there.
Residents dread blundering into an area of the city where a firefight has erupted, so they plug into social media to stay abreast of what Mexicans describe in shorthand as SDR, Spanish initials for situations of risk. On Twitter, they post public security news under the hashtag #reynosafollow.
Some use a smartphone app called Zello, a free push-to-talk program that allows users to employ their cellphones like walkie-talkies, asking those online about security conditions around the city. When word goes out of firefights or highway blockades, users flock online and reports flow anonymously.
One user, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted, said Zello operated as a modern citizens band radio.
We are not lookouts. We dont work for the government. We dont blow the whistle on where soldiers are mobilizing, he said, adding that the network is one of the few ways to disseminate information amid a general news blackout.
Nobody offers information on anything, he said. Its a total vacuum.
Others take clandestine video and post it to YouTube. One 15-minute video from the late-night firefight March 10 includes the repeat rat-tat of automatic weapons fire. Twitter reports from that night say battles raged between convoys of gunmen who moved between districts with no interference from police or soldiers.
The only official report of the result of the firefight was a statement from the Attorney Generals Office that stray bullets had killed a taxi driver and a minor. It didnt say how many armed civilians were slain.
The Monitor newspaper of McAllen, Texas, across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, cited a law-enforcement official the next day as saying gangsters had hauled off bodies that filled four vehicles.
A journalist in the nearby city of Matamoros, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from the cartel, said hed heard that as many as 60 vehicles carrying gunmen from Los Rojos had rushed in a convoy to Reynosa that night to do battle with Los Metros. Police and army units that were guarding the highway, overwhelmed by the cartels show of force, let the convoy pass, he said.
If one entered Reynosa on a quiet day, it might seem to be just a low-rent version of a Texas town. Its streets are lined with familiar names: Churchs Chicken, AutoZone, Blockbuster, Chilis, Home Depot and Walmart, among others.
But then on one central street corner is a sizable one-room shrine littered with flowers and stickers of cartoon characters to Samuel Flores Borrego, a Metros boss who was killed in September 2011. A portrait of the drug lord looks down on the street. Any driver who dares peer for long receives glares from men idling nearby.
An alleged Rojos boss, Juan Mejia Gonzalez, reportedly ordered the hit on Flores Borrego.
For all the mayhem, Reynosa Mayor Everardo Villarreal Salinas feigns that nothing untoward occurs. On March 14, at an event to mark the 264th anniversary of the citys founding, Villarreal hailed what he called Reynosas vibrant economy.
Reynosa continues to be today one of the cities with the highest growth and economic development in the whole country, Villarreal boasted.
Hes made no public mention of the gun battles in city streets.