On September 19, 2021, an unidentified man with a pistol entered a store in the western Colombian city of Tuluá where Marcos Efraín Montalvo was talking with a friend, and fatally shot the journalist four times in the chest, according to news reports and security footage of the shooting. The gunman did not rob the store and immediately fled on a motorcycle, according to those reports.
Montalvo, 68, had reported since the 1970s for local newspapers and radio stations and for the El País newspaper in the nearby city of Cali; in recent years he published nearly all of his reporting on his personal Facebook page, where he had about 1,000 followers, according to his nephew, Mauricio Altamirano, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Altamirano told CPJ that Montalvo often reported on alleged corruption and mismanagement by Tuluá officials, and had also written about organized crime, including the Cilantro Cartel, a local gang that allegedly extorted vegetable sellers in the city.
In 2019, someone riding a motorcycle struck Montalvo with their helmet and warned the journalist to stop reporting on sensitive issues, Altamirano said.
He added that Montalvo had received several death threats on Facebook this year in response to his reporting, including one instance in which an unidentified Facebook user threatened “that if he continued to publish stupidities that they would not rest until he was dead.”
Montalvo said that the journalist did not take the threats seriously enough to report them to the police.
During a September 20 visit to Cali, Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano told reporters that the killing “could be related” to Montalvo’s stories denouncing political corruption, according to news reports.
In an October 5, 2021, communiqué, the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), which sent a team to Tuluá to investigate the killing, said that there are “enough clues to maintain that the homicide is related to his critical reporting on corruption and local criminal groups.”
FLIP also stated that investigations by a special unit of the Attorney General’s office indicated that the killing was related to Montalvo’s reporting.
Tuluá Mayor John Jairo Gómez, a frequent subject of Montalvo’s critical stories, tweeted that he “profoundly regretted” the killing. CPJ called his office, but no one answered.
Clara Luz Roldán, the governor of Valle del Cauca department, which includes Tuluá, announced a reward of 100 million pesos (about US$26,000) for information leading to the capture of the perpetrators, according to news reports.
On December 7, 2021, police detained a 15-year-old male, whose name was not released, in the Bello Horizonte neighborhood in Tuluá, according to news reports, which said that a criminal investigation jointly carried out by the National Police and the prosecutor’s office had identified him as the suspected shooter who killed Montalvo.
The Second Court of Guarantees charged that suspect with murder; the suspect accepted the charge and was moved to the Valle del Lilí detention center for minors, according to those reports.
Authorities allege that the suspect was connected to a criminal organization led by a man identified as “Juaco,” who is imprisoned and continues coordinating the organization from detention, those reports said.
Tuluá Government Secretary Jorge Alexander Gallego said that the arrest was “directly related to the murder of the journalist [Montalvo]” and that authorities were continuing their investigation to determine the other perpetrators and planners of the killing, reports said.
CPJ texted the attorney general’s office in Bogotá, which is in charge of investigating the case, and the commander of the police department in Valle del Cauca, but did not receive any replies.