On May 16, 2019, reporter Francisco Romero Díaz was shot and killed in Playa del Carmen, a beachside resort in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, according to news reports and a statement by the state attorney general’s office, which CPJ has reviewed.
Romero left home in the early hours of May 16 after receiving a tip about a possible story, according to Amir Ibrahim, Romero's editor at the local newspaper Quintana Roo Hoy, who spoke with CPJ.
At approximately 6 a.m., near a club in Playa del Carmen, a gunman shot Romero at least twice in the head, killing him instantly, according to the statement from the state attorney general's office.
On May 17, State Attorney General Óscar Montes de Oca Rosales told media that a male suspect had been detained, according to news reports. The suspect, whose identity has not been made public, was arrested for his alleged participation in a shootout at a bar in Playa del Carmen on May 14, and admitted during questioning to having killed Romero, according to those reports.
According to the statement provided to CPJ by Montes de Oca’s office, the suspect told authorities that he received a call early in the morning on May 16 with the order to kill Romero. Several hours later, the suspect waited for Romero at a club and was notified by a security guard when the journalist had arrived. He then approached Romero, shot him several times, and fled the scene.
The statement did not provide further details on the possible motive of the killing or the identities of possible other suspects, such as the person who ordered the murder.
Romero, 28, had been enrolled in a federal protection program since mid-2018, according to an official at the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak with CPJ. The official said that Romero was assigned government bodyguards after he received threats following the killings of two of his colleagues at Semanario Playa News, a now defunct Facebook news page for which he reported.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the head of the office of the Federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression, told CPJ on May 17 that his office had not yet opened an investigation, and that it was waiting for more information from state authorities.
Romero had worked for Quintana Roo Hoy, one of the state's major newspapers, for approximately six months, and covered crime and local politics, according to Ibrahim. In addition to Quintana Roo Hoy, he wrote for the news website Quinta Fuerza and also ran a Facebook page called Ocurrió Aquí, Ibrahim said. Romero's most recent posts on Ocurrió Aquí included stories and videos about local politics and the robbery of a business in Playa del Carmen.
On May 17, the federal undersecretary for human rights, Alejandro Encinas, who is responsible for the protection mechanism, told national media that Romero had left his residence without informing his bodyguards, according to Mexican daily El Siglo de Torreón. Encinas said that Romero's widow told the federal government that the mechanism had otherwise provided adequate protection, the daily reported.
In a video that Romero made in April 2019, which his editor shared with CPJ, the journalist said that he had previously been abducted and threatened for his reporting, but that he would not be silenced and planned to continue to report. CPJ was unable to confirm details about the alleged abduction.
In 2018, Romero told CPJ he had received numerous threatening telephone calls and social media messages, and CPJ reviewed a series of threats against his life sent via Facebook. Romero told CPJ on several occasions that he suspected organized crime groups were behind the threats.
Romero was previously a reporter and editor for Semanario Playa News, a Facebook page that published news on Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area. The page's founder, Rubén Pat Cauich, was killed in Playa del Carmen on July 24, 2018, and one of its reporters, José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, was killed on June 29, 2018. CPJ is still investigating to determine if journalism was a motive in their killings.
Reporters in Quintana Roo have told CPJ on numerous occasions over the past two years that reporting has become increasingly dangerous. As well as the killings of Cauich and Dzib, CPJ is investigating the deaths of two other journalists in the region in the past two years to determine if journalism was the motive.