On May 8, 2019, a gunman shot and injured camera operator René Pérez while the journalist was covering a protest march in Cuernavaca, the capital of Mexico’s southern Morelos state, according to news reports. A local businessman and a union leader, the gunman’s targets, were killed in the attack, according to those reports.
On May 9, messages bearing threats against reporters who covered the shooting were found in Cuernavaca, according to Quadratín Morelos, a news website covering Morelos state.
At approximately 10 a.m. during the protest on May 8, the gunman approached businessman Jesús García and union leader Roberto Castrejón Jr. and shot both men several times, according to news reports. García died on the spot, while Castrejón died later while in surgery, according to the reports.
Pérez, who records video that is distributed on social media for the local radio program Quien Resulte Responsible, was hit in the back by a stray bullet during the attack, and was brought to a local hospital and released later that day, according to those reports.
Police arrested the gunman, a 22-year-old named Maximiliano, according to statements given to local and national media by state authorities, which said he had ties to organized crime and withheld his surname.
On May 9, Quadratín Morelos reported that threatening messages directed at journalists who were present at the shooting were found written on pieces of cardboard in the Altavista neighborhood of Cuernavaca. Quadratín did not specify the content of the messages, but a reporter from Cuernavaca, who asked not to be named out of concerns for their safety, told CPJ that one of the messages contained the phrase: “And to the reporters, be mindful of what you talk about and to who you point, because heads will start to roll.”
The same journalist told CPJ that at least one local reporter who was present at the shooting received a threatening phone call from an unknown individual on May 10. The threatened reporter asked for their name to be withheld out of fear for their safety.
A spokesperson for the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat and provides protective measures to reporters in threatening situations, told CPJ on May 13 that the institution was in contact with local reporters in Morelos and was evaluating whether some of them should be incorporated into a federal protection scheme. The spokesperson asked to remain anonymous to be able to speak on the matter.
Mexico is the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere, according to CPJ research. Last year, at least four journalists were murdered in the country in direct retaliation for their work.