2012-04-11 / News

99-year-old man escapes violence in Mexico, moves to Oklahoma

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. ( AP) - The escalation of drug- related violence gripping certain areas of Mexico has hit close to home for one local family.

Santos Hernandez, father of Bartlesville resident Estela Hall, has always been a hard worker who loved to tend to his sugar cane crops even at age 99. But when the elderly farmer was taken hostage in his village home in Tampico, Mexico, Hall knew it was time to take action.

“ He would have been plucked like a chicken if somebody didn’t get him out of there,” said Bill Hall, Hernandez’s son-in-law.

That “ somebody” happened to be Estela Hall, who said the distressing incident marked the final straw in a series of events that threatened her father's safety and life. In a previous instance, for example, Hernandez was enjoying a visit to the town square with his 75-year-old best friend when he was suddenly assaulted and robbed.

“They told him that the next time they saw him, they’d kill him,” said Estela Hall, noting that her father continued to prefer to live by himself. “ He’s a totally independent man, didn’t want any help and wants to do everything by himself.”

When the Halls received word that her father had been seized by a pair of young criminals who “took over possession of him and the house,” Estela Hall wasted no time in retrieving her dad from what previously had been a relatively comfortable life.

Last month she flew to Tampico, where she confronted one of the knifewielding intruders who had taken over the family farm house. Despite the danger, she was able to help her father pack up a few personal belongings and safely escape.

The Halls said they filed a police report with local authorities about the crimes committed against Hernandez. They doubt that the home invaders are drug cartel members, but rather part of a youth element that has no scruples about “ taking advantage of old people.”

“ They were just cruel teenagers who had no regard for the old,” said Bill Hall. “ The lifestyle is totally different than here. There are no nursing homes or similar programs for the old.”

Located in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the Gulf Coast port city of Tampico has experienced a spike in violence stemming from drug-related crimes and turf wars among drug cartels.

“ It’s just very scary,” Estela Hall said. “ Some parts of Mexico are still OK and the tourist areas are relatively safe, but Tampico has totally changed.”

And the change has been for the worse, as organized crime groups have battled each other and Mexican authorities, leaving innocent bystanders seemingly paralyzed with fear. The surge of violence has involved shootouts in broad daylight and frequent bus hijackings, as well as kidnappings.

“No one goes out at night now. The streets are completely empty. It’s the scariest thing when you hear gun shots going off,” she said. “ It’s become a tragedy.”

“It’s like Colombia has moved north,” added Bill Hall, noting that much of the brutality that takes place goes unrecorded by the media. “ It’s much worse than what you read in the newspaper or hear on the news.”

Estela Hall also described how she witnessed a restaurant locking its doors as an attempt to keep patrons safe if outside violence suddenly erupted.

“It was creepy and very weird to see that,” she said.

Now safely in Bartlesville and possessing a six- month visa, Santos Hernandez is gradually adjusting to the cultural change while missing what had been his home for all of his 99 years.

“ I’m enjoying life here and people are very nice and welcoming, but my home is in Mexico and maybe in the future I can go back,” said Hernandez, who will turn 100 on July 9.

The Halls explained that the trip to Bartlesville marked the first time that Hernandez had been on an airplane or out of his native country, a place he still holds close to his heart.

“He’s always thinking in terms of the future,” said Bill Hall. “I think that says a lot about his nature and what type of man he is. He’s worked hard all his life and shows only a few signs of slowing down. He wants to go back and work on his farm.”

Meanwhile, Hernandez is adjusting to the change quite well and is in the process of picking up the English language. He has also come to appreciate the country’s wide range of food offerings, according to Estela Hall.

“ That came to a relief for me, as I like to cook international dishes and was afraid he’d only want authentic food that he’s used to. He now prefers bread over tortillas,” said Hall.

Hernandez’s active outdoor lifestyle may be the secret to his spry spirit. “ He’s not used to sitting inside and watching TV,” explained Hall. “He’d much rather be working outside and seeing places.”

“ He walks with a cane now, but he doesn’t want to be taken around in a wheelchair,” said Bill Hall. “He’s in good shape. He was putting an irrigation system in his garden when he was in his mid- 90s. His hard work is very admirable.”

Since arriving in Bartlesville about four weeks ago, Hernandez has visited several surrounding sights. Bill Hall said that his father- in- law especially enjoyed the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.

“Everybody has been so nice and kind to him, and even though he doesn’t speak English, they want to know his story,” he said.

Estela Hall, who moved to the United States in 1989 and is an American citizen, echoed her husband’s sentiments in saying that her father has been “ greeted very warmly by the American people.”

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