March 14, 2009
LAREDO, Texas (CNN) – Rosalio Reta sits at a table inside a Laredo Police Department interrogation room. A detective, sitting across the table, asks him how it all started.
Gabriel Cardona, who shows his tattooed eyelids, worked as a hit man for a Mexican cartel.
Reta, in Spanish street slang, describes his initiation as an assassin, at the age of 13, for the Mexican Gulf Cartel, one of the country’s two major drug gangs.
“I thought I was Superman. I loved doing it, killing that first person,” Reta says on the videotape obtained by CNN. “They tried to take the gun away, but it was like taking candy from kid.”
Rosalio Reta and his friend, Gabriel Cardona, were members of a three-person cell of American teenagers working as cartel hit men in the United States, according to prosecutors. The third was arrested by Mexican authorities and stabbed to death in prison there three days later.
In interviews with CNN, Laredo police detectives and prosecutors told how Cardona and Reta were recruited by the cartel to be assassins after they began hitting the cantinas and clubs just across the border. Watch how the teens turned into drug cartel hitmen »
CNN has also obtained detailed court records as well as several hours of police interrogation videos. The detective sitting across the table from Reta and Cardona in those sessions is Robert Garcia. He’s a veteran of the Laredo Police Department and one of the few officers who has questioned the young men.
“One thing you wonder all the time: What made them this way?” Garcia told CNN. “They were just kids themselves, waiting around playing PlayStation or Xbox, waiting around for the order to be given.”
Over a nearly one-year period starting in June 2005, the border town of Laredo, Texas, saw a string of seven murders. At first glance, the violence looked like isolated, gangland-style killings. But investigators started suspecting something more sinister.
Then Noe Flores was gunned down in a clear case of mistaken identity. Investigators found a fingerprint on a cigarette box inside the suspected shooter’s get-away car. That clue unraveled the chilling reality and led police to arrest Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta.