By his mid-teens he was torturing members of rival cartels for information, killing them and cutting up their bodies or dissolving them in acid,

Jacobo grew up in the western Mexico state of Jalisco, home to the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel. Never comfortable in school, he had an abusive childhood: at one point his mother held his hands over an open flame after he allegedly shoved a classmate, AP reports.

Now 17, Jacobo claims he didn’t do it. But by 12, he was recruited to carry out his first murder for the cartel. “They go around looking for kids who are out on the streets and need money,” he recalls. “At 12 years old, I became sort of a hired killer.”

Jacobo told his story to Reinserta, a Mexican non-profit group that withheld the youths’ full names because all are under age, are currently being held at facilities for youthful offenders and most are scared of retaliation by the gangs.

“A neighbor asked me, ‘Do you want to earn money?’”. Growing up in a household where his family could seldom make ends meet, the answer was obvious. “I said yes. Who doesn’t want money?” But the $1,500 he earned didn’t last long; he picked up a meth habit, in part to quiet the psychological effects of what he was doing.

By his mid-teens he was torturing members of rival cartels for information, killing them and cutting up their bodies or dissolving them in acid, by now on the outskirts of Mexico City.

 

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