Photo: APIt can happen in the best of families that there is a bad egg. This seems to be the case with the American high school football star who became one of Mexico’s most feared and savage drug dealers, La Barbie.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal grew up in a middle-class suburb of Laredo where his father owned a shop and his family went to church. “Most of his siblings went to college and started businesses, becoming the sort of law-abiding people who are the mortar of society,” neighbours and friends told the New York Times. Other kids called him Barbie because of his square-jawed Ken look.

None of the clichéd roots of crime could be seen in his youth: no broken home, no abusive father, no poverty.

So how did he end up, at 37, a brutal and ruthless drug lord with the blood of others on his conscience if not on his hands? There seem to be two basic character flaws — or perhaps two aspects of one flaw: self-indulgence and a desire for easy money.

Mr. Valdez got his start in crime as a petty marijuana dealer in Laredo in the early 1990s, but he was never arrested on drug charges, according to the Webb County Sheriff’s Office and the Laredo Police Department.

There were signs, however, that the affable linebacker on the United High School football team had a wild side: arrests for drunken driving and public drunkenness.

In 1992, near the end of his senior year, he was arrested on a charge of criminally negligent homicide after he drove his pickup down the wrong side of a road and collided head-on with a middle school guidance counselor, killing him. The charge was later dropped.

After graduation, Mr. Valdez turned down an offer from his father to attend college, saying he wanted to make money, his brother said. According to a federal indictment in Laredo, the next year he joined a group of smugglers who were moving hundreds of pounds of Mexican marijuana through Laredo to cities in Massachusetts and Missouri.

In Mexico he became sucked up into the drug conflict and, to the extent he rose in power, so he sank in virtue and humanity.

“He chose that road,” said his older brother, Abel Valdez Jr. “We are a good family.”

But was there something both at home and in the institutions — education and law — that his weaknesses could lead to such extremes? What if he had been arrested for drug dealing at the start? What if he had been held legally accountable for the death he caused as a high school senior?

There’s no guarantee, but being forced to suffer the consequences then might have saved him from a really dreadful career.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet