For over 20 years schools in the Rim of the World Unified School District have joined thousands of schools all around the country to celebrate “saying no to drug” through the program called Red Ribbon Week. I remember when Red Ribbon Week began in the mountain communities and those same traditions continue today. At Charles Hoffman Elementary School in Running Spring the visible signs of Red Ribbon Week can be seen on trees and fences that are festooned with bright red ribbons. Throughout the years the activities that surround this special, important message of not getting involved with drugs has taken many different forms.
Many years ago one of the school principals and I scaled a tall ladder and we crawled across the roof of one of the buildings so I could get a great picture of the children who were lined up on the playground. The colorfully dressed students were helped by their teachers and school staff to line up and once in place, from my (very scary) vantage point on the school’s roof, it was easy to see that the students were spelling out a huge “no” as they lined up on the asphalt. That was also the one and only time I did anything that crazy.
While students across the country know it’s Red Ribbon Week and it stands for saying no to illegal drugs few people know how this nationally-celebrated week even began so I did some digging and found the following information. Out of something horrific came “Red Ribbon Week.” The information printed her is from the Red Ribbon Coalition and is approved by the foundation.
Red Ribbon Week began after the kidnapping, torture and brutal murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. The agent had been working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico for over four years and his efforts led to a tip that resulted in the discovery of a multimillion dollar narcotics manufacturing operation in Chihuaha, Mexico. The successful eradication of this and other drug production operations angered leaders of several drug cartels who sought revenge. As a result, they murdered key informants and then, on February 7, 1985, they kidnapped Agent Camarena and his pilot Captain Alfredo Zavala-Avelar on the same day.
After DEA Agent Camarena and Captain Zavata-Avelar were kidnapped, the DEA launched a massive investigation. The agents found local law enforcement uncooperative at best, DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese sought greater support from Mexican officials, including the Mexican Attorney General but to no avail. Orders from US Customs Commissioner Edwin von Raab effectively closed the US/Mexico border for days putting pressure on the Mexican government to assist.
Soon, representatives of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) presented a tip to DEA Agents claiming that Agent Camarena had been mistakenly kidnapped by a man and his three sons. The MFJP informed the agents that a raid of the man’s ranch in Angostura would take place the following morning and invited them to come. However, the MFJP raided the ranch before DEA agents arrived. During the raid, they shot and killed five individuals. Not long after, a passerby discovered the bodies of both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar by the side of the road not far from the ranch.
The DEA’s investigation revealed that Agent Camarena had been tortured extensively before he was murdered. Audiotapes of the torture showed that medical doctors actually kept Agent Camarena alive in order to continue the interrogation. Evidence collected revealed that both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar were initially buried in one location and then moved to the ranch where they were found.
The dramatic events that followed Agent Camarena’s disappearance were chronicled in national media in the U.S. The publicity exposed the dark world of drug trafficking, including how far drug traffickers would go to maintain power and control.
In Agent Camarena’s home town of Calexico, California, the public outpouring of support turned into an organized community response in which citizens dawned red ribbons. They became a voice for prevention in order to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and illegal use of legal drugs in America. The following year the California State PTA adopted the Red Ribbon Campaign. Then, in 1988, Red ribbon Week was recognized nationally with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan serving as the honorary chairpersons.
Today, the Red Ribbon Celebration brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention and treatment services. It is the largest most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.
For more information log onto: RedRibbonCoalition.com.