Celebrating a Hero’s Life
A Hero’s Life
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was born on July 26, 1947 in the small town of Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico. In 1956, Kiki and his family moved to Calexico, California. After graduating from Calexico Union High school, he joined the Marine Corps. During his two-year tour with the Marine Corps, he served as a legal clerk and received the National Defense Service Medal.
After serving in the Marines, he worked as a fireman for the City of Calexico and attended Imperial Valley College, where he earned an associates degree. Kiki joined the Calexico Police Department in 1970. He was then assigned to El Centro, California, where he worked as a Narcotics Investigator for Imperial County. Kiki married Geneva “Mika” Alvarado and together they had three sons, Enrique, Daniel, and Eric.
Kiki joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1974. During his time with DEA, Special Agent Camarena served in Calexico, California. He was sent to DEA’s Fresno, California, office in 1977 and then to the Guadalajara, Mexico, office in 1981.
“What’s gonna have to happen? Does somebody have to die before anything is done? Is somebody going to have to get killed?” Kiki spoke these words about the grave drug problem he saw from his vantage point in DEA’s Guadalajara office. The words would prove prophetic.
A Hero’s Sacrifice
On February 7, 1985, at 2:00 p.m., Special Agent Camarena left the American Consulate in Guadalajara to meet his wife for lunch. Kiki had been in Mexico for four and a half years on the trail of Mexico’s marijuana and cocaine barons. He was due to be reassigned in three weeks, having come dangerously close to unlocking a multi-billion drug dollar pipeline.
As Kiki neared his truck, he was approached by five men, who shoved him into a beige Volkswagen. One of the men threw a jacket over Kiki’s head and the driver sped away.
Almost a month later, on March 5, Kiki’s body was found on a ranch outside of the town of Zamora, Mexico, approximately 60 miles outside of Guadalajara. Autopsy reports indicated that Special Agent Camarena had been tortured and beaten. Three days after his body was discovered, he was returned to the United States for burial.
The Red Ribbon
Following the death of Special Agent Camarena and the press attention that the killing generated, U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter, member of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, and Henry Lozano, a high school friend of Kiki’s and director of Teen Challenge, a drug abuse prevention and counseling organization, met to discuss plans to develop “Camarena Clubs” throughout the El Cajon, California, area. These “Camarena Clubs” were formed to unite students, teachers, and others in the community against drug abuse.
The first “Camarena Club” was started on April 20, 1985, at Calexico Union High School, the same high school from which Kiki graduated in 1968. The following week, members of that club, along with Congressman Hunter’s wife, Lynne, presented First Lady Nancy Reagan with the “Camarena Club Proclamation.”
The summer of 1985 saw a surge in national interest in the memory of Kiki Camarena and the problems of drug abuse. The Virginia Federation of Parents and the Illinois Drug Education Alliance called on every American to wear red ribbons to symbolize their commitment to help reduce the demand for drugs in their communities. Since then, the Red Ribbon campaign has taken on national significance.
Red Ribbon Week
Today, Red Ribbon Week is celebrated annually October 23–31 in cities across the country. During Red Ribbon Week, young people in communities across the nation pledge to live a drug-free lifestyle by wearing red ribbons and participating in community-wide anti-drug events.
Red Ribbon Week is also a time to pay tribute to Kiki Camarena, whose death led to the creation of the Red Ribbon program.
Information from DEA