Sánchez’s decapitated and dismembered body was found early on January 24 in Veracruz state, according to a statement from the state attorney general’s office. The journalist and owner of the newspaper La Unión had been missing since January 2. On February 5, federal investigators said their DNA tests had confirmed the body was that of Sánchez, according to news reports.
Sánchez was kidnapped from his home in the municipality of Medellín de Bravo on January 2 and his computer, camera, and other electronic materials seized, according to news reports. The journalist had founded La Unión, a small weekly print and online newspaper that often criticized city authorities, particularly the mayor, Omar Cruz Reyes, and denounced local criminal activity as well as the poor quality of basic services like garbage pickup and the absence of street lights.
A local journalist who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told CPJ that Sánchez had not published a print edition in months due to financial constraints. The last story published on La Unión‘s website dated to April 2014, according to CPJ research. In the months before his death, according to local journalists and news reports, Sánchez had posted on Facebook critical commentary about crime and the actions of the local government, links to articles, and videos. He also acted as a source for other Veracruz journalists, whom he often provided with photographs and other information.
In the days before Sánchez was kidnapped, the journalist posted on Facebook several photographs of protests against the governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, as well as links to articles about a recent murder. On December 13 and 14, he posted several articles, press releases, and a video regarding the formation of a neighborhood watch self-defense group in response to local crime. It wasn’t clear whether Sánchez, who was also active in the group, was the author of any of the materials posted on Facebook.
The journalist who asked to remain anonymous told CPJ that information about self-defense groups was particularly sensitive for local officials who sought to downplay shortcomings in local law enforcement. The journalist’s son, Jorge Sánchez, told CPJ that his father had been threatened by the mayor in connection with his coverage of the groups.
The state attorney general told reporters after the crime that he had evidence pointing toward the mayor. “I have elements to suggest the mayor’s participation,” Veracruz state attorney general Luis Ángel Bravo said.
The state attorney general’s office said a former Veracruz police officer turned drug trafficker, Noé Rodríguez, confessed to carrying out the abduction and murder, along with five other suspects, and said he had killed Sánchez the day of the kidnapping. The suspects were allegedly told by the deputy police chief of Medellín, Martín López Meneses, to kidnap and kill Sánchez, according to the state attorney general’s office’s statement which cited Rodríguez. López, who was also the driver and bodyguard of Mayor Cruz, was placed under preventive detention shortly after the murder.
Rodríguez also alleged that López had received his orders from Mayor Cruz, who wanted the journalist to be “disappeared” because he was angered by Sánchez’ coverage of local crime, according to news reports. In exchange, the reports said, Cruz would allow the criminal gang to deal drugs in the area. Cruz has denied involvement in the crime and maintained that he had no disagreements with Sánchez, according to news reports.
In March 2015, the Veracruz state legislature voted to strip Cruz of the immunity from prosecution granted to him as an elected official. Cruz faces charges related to the murder, but has not yet been arrested according to reports.
In November 2015, López was released from prison after a federal judge accepted his appeal on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to keep him in jail, according to press reports and a press release from Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, the attorney general of Veracruz. The charges against him were not dropped, reports said.
In the days after the kidnapping, Governor Duarte referred to Sánchez as an “activist and taxi driver,” which drew complaints from local journalists that the governor was trying to minimize Sánchez’s work as journalist.
Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for the press. In the past, Governor Duarte’s government has sought to dismiss any possible link between journalists’ murders and their profession.