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Friends mourn deaths of Mexican immigrants killed in Pennsauken

Jacobo Medina and Javier Medina came to Camden County from their native San Lucas Atzala about five years ago to earn a better living.

A picture of Javier Medina is pasted on a donation box on the counter of La Toca Loca Restaurant. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)
A picture of Javier Medina is pasted on a donation box on the counter of La Toca Loca Restaurant. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)Read more

Jacobo Medina and Javier Medina came to Camden County from their native San Lucas Atzala about five years ago to earn a better living.

The men, who were not related, connected with relatives and family friends from the small city in central Mexico who were already settled in South Jersey. They all looked out for each other, Eufrecia Trinidad, one of those friends, said on Tuesday.

Jacobo Medina hoped to move back to Mexico soon, Trinidad said. "He missed his family and wanted to see his mom," she said in Spanish.

Now friends and loved ones are gathering money to send Jacobo Medina, 23, and Javier Medina, 22, to San Lucas Atzala for burial.

The men, who had grown close since leaving home, were stabbed to death in a brawl early Sunday morning following a baptism party at La Hacienda in Pennsauken. Two other men, whose names have not been released, were injured in the incident outside of the restaurant at about 2:30 a.m.

By Sunday evening, relatives and friends of the victims had dropped off donation boxes at La Hacienda and several Mexican-owned businesses in Camden. The containers, just bigger than tissue boxes, bear pictures of the men and handwritten pleas for money.

One photo shows Javier in a long white T-shirt, his arms folded. Another has Jacobo in a New York Yankees cap and sunglasses.

"It is very sad," said Georgina Morales, a cousin of Jacobo Medina. "This is a huge loss for us."

The men were among 40 guests at the party, which broke up at about 2 a.m. Guests had been dancing to a DJ's upbeat Spanish-language tunes, said Maricela Ramos, 20, who attended the festivity. Everyone was happy to celebrate the 3-year-old girl's baptism.

As people were leaving, Ramos said, Jacobo Medina and another guest began to argue outside.

"It was over a girl," said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. He said the confrontation stemmed from a prior dispute over the woman. He couldn't say whether she was at the baptism.

Most of the remaining guests went outside to see what was happening and the restaurant owner locked the doors to "protect his employees," said a Hacienda worker who identified herself as Pilar.

More than a dozen men brought out bats and knives and attacked Jacobo Medina, Ramos said. Javier Medina jumped in to assist his friend.

"We tried to help them, but we had to back off," Ramos said in Spanish.

After Javier Medina was stabbed, he yelled for someone to call an ambulance and police, Ramos said. But by the time help arrived, it was too late. The men were pronounced dead on scene, according to authorities.

Authorities have not announced arrests in the homicides.

A 34-year-old Camden resident was grazed with a knife, Laughlin said. A fourth victim, a 27-year-old man, also from Camden, was struck in the ribs with a bat and treated and released. Laughlin declined to name the men or describe their roles in the fight.

Some of those involved were said to be associated with local street gangs, according to friends of the victims.

Those who knew Jacobo Medina and Javier Medina said they had jobs and were close to their families.

Jacobo - who dressed a little flashy, with bandanas and his hat turned to the side - was employed cutting trees, they said. Javier was the quieter of the two, they said. He sometimes helped his aunt by making deliveries for her floral business.

"Just this Saturday morning he brought these," said Trinidad, showing bunches of blooms at the door step of Panaderia El Payaso, the bakery on Federal Street in Camden where she works.

According to Trinidad, most of the hundreds of San Lucas Atzala natives in South Jersey are acquaintances and friends. Jacobo Medina and Javier Medina were well-known, she said.

They had similar backgrounds. Back home, their relatives work in the farm fields. Many of the town's young adults have traveled to South Jersey to help their families financially, Trinidad said.

San Lucas Atzala "has progressed ever since more of us having been coming here" and sending money, she said.

Those who have relocated are a tight-knit group who care about each other, Trinidad said. They go to the same doctors, the same grocery stores and the same church, St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral, she said.

The news of Jacobo Medina and Javier Medina's deaths spread quickly in San Lucas Atzala on Sunday, she said.

After local relatives are given the men's bodies, there will be a mass in Camden, said Morales, Jacobo Medina's cousin. By then, she said, she hoped there would be enough money to fly the friends to Mexico for funerals and burial.