Ciudad Juarez in Mexico is pictured nestled against El Paso, Texas. A member of a National Geographic crew was shot in the leg when gunmen attacked a residence where the group was interviewing an alleged gang member. (Paul Ratje/AFP)
Ciudad Juarez in Mexico is pictured nestled against El Paso, Texas. A member of a National Geographic crew was shot in the leg when gunmen attacked a residence where the group was interviewing an alleged gang member. (Paul Ratje/AFP)

National Geographic reporter wounded in shootout in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez

Mexico City, October 8, 2019 – Mexican authorities must immediately undertake a credible and transparent investigation into the October 4 gun attack on a residence in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, during which a reporter for National Geographic was shot in the leg, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The attack occurred while a camera crew for National Geographic was conducting an interview with an alleged member of a criminal gang for a documentary, according to news reports.

According to one member of the camera crew with whom CPJ spoke on October 6 and 7, the team had traveled to Ciudad Juárez to shoot a documentary film about drug trafficking and organized crime in that city. The crew consisted of an American, a Canadian and a Mexican reporter, a Mexican camera assistant and a Mexican security guard. CPJ was asked not to reveal the names of the members of the crew, out of concern for their safety.

At approximately 6.00 pm on October 4, the crew arrived at a residence in the Valle de Olivos neighborhood in Ciudad Juárez, a city bordering Texas, for an interview with an alleged member of a local drug trafficking gang. According to the member of the crew with whom CPJ spoke, there were three other alleged members of the gang present in the house.

Shortly after the crew arrived and while they were setting up their camera equipment for the interview, a group of at least six unidentified armed individuals carrying automatic rifles approached the residence and opened fire, according to the crew member. He said that the attack lasted approximately two minutes, and that the gang members present in the residence returned fire.

The American member of the National Geographic team was hit in the leg by a single bullet, while the alleged gang member the crew was going to interview was killed with at least four gunshot wounds, according to the crew member. The wounded reporter was rushed to a nearby hospital.

“The gun attack in Ciudad Juárez that injured a National Geographic reporter illustrates the unacceptably dangerous circumstances in which journalists report on crime and violence in Mexico,” Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative, said. “We urge Mexican authorities to take all possible steps to check impunity for crimes against the press and guarantee the safety of all reporters working in the country.”

Police escorted the other members of the crew shortly after the attack to the local offices of the Chihuahua State Attorney General, where they gave a statement. They were released several hours later.

Two members of the crew, including the wounded American reporter, were relocated to El Paso, across the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas, early morning on October 5. The wounded reporter received follow-up treatment there in a local hospital and was discharged the same day, according to the El Paso Times.

The other members of the crew returned to Mexico City on October 5 and were provided with federal police protection while waiting for their flight at the Ciudad Juárez airport, according to an official of the Mexican Federal Interior Secretariat with knowledge of the incident. He asked to remain anonymous in order to be able to speak on the matter.

The Chihuahua state attorney general’s office released a statement on October 4, several hours after the attack, in which the office confirmed that it was investigating the attack. The office said that the residence where the gun attack occurred had been investigated several months earlier over a double homicide at the same building and was known to local authorities as a place where drugs were sold.

According to the statement, the attackers did not appear to target the National Geographic team. Carlos Huerta, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, told CPJ today that the office could not provide further details.

CPJ’s email today to National Geographic did not immediately receive a reply.

Ciudad Juárez is one of Mexico’s most violent cities. The city was the country’s murder capital for several years and has recently seen a surge in deadly violence, as rival drug trafficking groups engage in increasingly intense gangland warfare, according to news reports.

Mexico is the most deadly country in the world for journalists in 2019. According to CPJ research, at least five journalists have been killed in relation to their work this year, all of them singled out for murder in retaliation for their reporting. CPJ is investigating six other killings to determine the motive.