Baghdad on Our Border
Debra and Chris Hall, in their El Cajon, California, home, a year after their brush with death in Mexico
Credit: Debra and Chris Hall, in their El Cajon, California, home, a year after their brush with death in Mexico. Photograph by John Dole

The Halls were sprawled facedown in that ditch for five minutes before they noticed how quiet it had become. Chris no longer heard the rough idle of his truck, so he cautiously lifted his head and looked around. Their attackers had fled with his truck and trailer.

In the dark and dense fog, it took the Halls two hours to find their way back to civilization, walking and stumbling on brambles and rocks, blood covering their feet and legs. Finally, in the distance, they saw a light and heard dogs barking. They called out, pleading for help. Instead, someone fired two shots at them.

The Halls trudged on and came upon a row of houses near the coastal highway; they knocked on a dozen doors before a woman let them in. She offered to call the police, but Chris yelled, "No, don't call the police!" Chris, Debra, Divinia, and Tyler cleaned themselves up as best they could, and made it to the border, where they borrowed a quarter from a stranger at a McDonald's and called a cousin collect in San Diego, who drove down to pick them up.

More than a year after the incident, the Halls still have nightmares and tear up when they talk about it, even in the safety of their home, in which they recently installed an elaborate security system. They no longer believe that their abductors will be captured or that the Baja state police ever really looked for them.

They are still afraid the gunmen will slip across the border and kill them – they have the Halls' home address from the driver's licenses they stole. In October, Arizona sheriff deputies found Chris's truck in the desert outside Yuma, filthy and full of dents and scratches, its windows painted black. It had been used to smuggle illegals into the U.S. Someone is still making charges on the stolen credit cards the Halls cancelled the minute they got back; most businesses in Mexico use the old paper-slide charge machines, so there's no instant check by phone or computer. The Halls' Citibank, Amex, and Home Depot cards were recently used in Tijuana to buy clothes and shoes, a night at Ensenada's Hotel Coral and Marina, and a $2,200 meal.

In all, with the stolen cash, jewelry, and the truck and trailer, the Halls have lost $120,000. "But they robbed us of something more precious than physical stuff," says Debra. "They took Mexico from us. We loved Mexico, and now we'll never go back."