On a sweltering July afternoon in 2012, Adriana Chavez was kidnapped at gunpoint in Weslaco. Two masked men stormed into her father's used car dealership. She was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to a remote trailer park in San Carlos.
"They threw me in my vehicle and drove off. It was scary and I cried at times," Chavez said. "The guys told me to stay calm and they wouldn't hurt me. I didn't scream or yell, I just followed their demands, but I knew I was going to get out of this. I had to get out because, if not, they were going to kill me."
The 34-year-old will share her harrowing story and how she was able to escape from her captors during the Fifth Annual Social Justice and Peace Conference "Kidnappings and the Missing on the U.S./Mexico Border," April 23 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
"It was a random attack. They (suspects) had a drug deal that went bad and they thought they could get the money back by kidnapping me and holding me for a million-dollar ransom," Chavez said. "Some of the authorities aren't happy that I'm doing this, but I want people to know what's happening. In some ways I felt like law enforcement treated me like the criminal. They assumed it was drug-related and it wasn't, at least not on my part."
The conference, hosted by the UTPA Department of Criminal Justice, will run from 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. in the University Ballroom. It will also be the first time a 27-year-old UTPA student, abducted in broad daylight from campus in September, will speak publicly about her emotional ordeal.
"We want to bring attention to the problem of kidnappings on the border which continues to grow. This is about information, awareness and discussion of the problems in law enforcement," said Dr. Rosalva Resendiz, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and conference coordinator.
The issue hits close to home for Resendiz. Chavez is her closest friend, and the crime motivated her to make border kidnappings the focus of this year's conference.
"In general, the problem is growing. My best friend was kidnapped for ransom. More acquaintances are getting kidnapped for ransom and more students are concerned with this issue," she said.
The Department of Criminal Justice is sponsoring the event to promote human rights, social justice and peace. The goal is to engage faculty, students, and the community in a dialogue about social problems that affect our lives here on the border.
Resendiz said not only do they want to raise social consciousness; they also want to provide a safe avenue for discussing solutions to the abductions along the border.
"Maybe by sharing our stories, people will realize what is happening in our area," Chavez said. "There are a lot of kidnappings down here and for some reason nobody wants to talk about it. I understand they're scared that the attackers will come back because the majority of the cases may be drug-related, but I wasn't involved in that so I can speak out and make people aware."
Presentations and workshops will be held featuring topics such as border violence, political corruption, human trafficking, and the drug trade. Resendiz said the range of topics the conference is focusing on will provide an avenue for activists, poets, campus organizations and artists to share their concerns and information about resources available to the community.
Carlos Campbell will present his documentary "Kidnappings: Expect the Unexpected." Campbell wrote, directed and produced the film. He and his associate Rich Roth are currently working on a second documentary on border kidnappings.
In addition, threat experts from the international community, law enforcement specialists, community groups and a researcher from Rutgers University-Newark will be featured. Poster research presentations, case studies, and a discussion on campus security are also scheduled for the conference.
"We just need people to remember that we need to treat victims like victims," Chavez said. "At one point they tried to put one of my kidnappers in the back of the police car with me. That shouldn't happen."
For more information on the social justice conference visit www.utpa.edu/sjp or for special accommodations, call (956) 661-3566.