A Few Bad Boys

A throat is slashed in the night at Harlingen’s Marine Military Academy, and cadets and school officials are left to wonder whether a culture of conformity and a history of violence are to blame.

In the gloomy predawn hours of october 6, reveille blasted through the darkened barracks of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen and blared through overhead speakers, its rapid-fire succession of notes ricocheting off the cinder-block walls and rousing sleeping cadets from their racks. But on that particular fall morning, the cadets of Bravo Company were already awake, many lying wide-eyed in the dark. They had been jolted from their sleep not by reveille but by the panicked cries of eighteen-year-old Cadet Lance Corporal Gabriel Cortez, who had screamed and stumbled out of bed at a few moments after 0300 hours, holding his hand against his neck as footsteps rushed away and down the hall into the darkness. Along his neck, a fresh gash snaked from his right jaw down to the base of his throat, trailing off as it climbed halfway up the other side. Cadets had poured out of their rooms, and a frantic search of the barracks had ensued while Cortez sat in a chair, pale and trembling, his T-shirt covered in blood. Company commanders switched on lights until the barracks blazed in the nighttime, and the cadets were called out on line, standing at attention until everyone was accounted for. Harlingen police officers arrived and searched cadets’ rooms, peering into wall lockers and rifling through belongings; they left before reveille, having made no arrests but promising to return later that day.

By first mess, as the sun started to break over the barracks, rumors circulated that Cortez, who had been taken away in an ambulance, was dying or dead. Cadets sat in the mess hall, looking uneasily at each other over their syrupy pancakes and scrambled eggs. “There were a lot of cold, distant stares,” says Cadet First Sergeant Frank Walker of Echo Company, “because it could have been any one of us.” Cortez hadn’t seen his attackers’ faces in the dark, just fleeing shadows, and the cadets knew that whoever had tried to slit his throat lay in their midst. They went through the motions of their day with a growing sense of apprehension as that morning, and then that afternoon, and then that evening, brought no arrests. “We all thought we knew each other real well,” says Cadet Major Eliel Hinojosa of Echo Company, “but there was a part of each other we just weren’t sure about anymore.” As dusk fell over the academy, it became clear that the cadets who had attacked Cortez would remain among the corps for another night. A deepening anxiety settled over Bravo

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