Mario Leonel Gómez Sánchez, a reporter for the local newspaper El Heraldo de Chiapas, was shot dead outside his home in Yajalón, a town in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, at approximately 5 p.m. on September 21, 2018. He was killed by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle, according to news reports and El Heraldo’s news director, José Ramón Gallegos.
In a video captured by a security camera near Gómez’s residence and published online on September 24 by state and national media, the attackers can be seen approaching the reporter on a motorcycle and briefly stopping several meters from Gómez. One of the men fires several shots with a handgun, after which the assailants flee from the scene. Gallegos told CPJ that Gómez died shortly afterward in the hospital.
Héctor Flores, a spokesperson for the Chiapas state attorney general’s office, referred CPJ on September 21 to a short statement published on the office’s website, in which the authorities condemned the attack and said that an investigation had been opened. In a second statement, released on September 22, the state attorney general said the reporter’s work as a journalist was the principal line of investigation. According to the same statement, the reporter was hit by four bullets.
The state attorney general’s office told the media on September 24 that a male suspect had been arrested. Luis Alberto Sánchez, the state prosecutor for homicides, revealed in a statement on video released later that same day that the suspect, named only as Juan Pablo ‘N’, observed the reporter’s residence as a lookout to confirm to the killers that Gómez was at home, but was not one of the gunmen.
According to the prosecutor, the detained suspect is a member of a drug trafficking group that operates in Yajalón and the surrounding area, that is led by Juan David Martínez Trujillo and Óscar Leyver Acosta González, who are now both wanted by the authorities for their alleged involvement in the murder. Sánchez added that Gómez’s work as a reporter is the principal suspected motive for the killing.
Martínez Trujillo and Acosta González were arrested on September 30, 2018, and October 23, 2018, in Playa del Carmen and Palenque respectively, according to statements released to the media by Sánchez, the Chiapas state homicide prosecutor. The arrests followed the previous apprehension of Juan Pablo ‘N’ on September 24, according to news reports and previous statements by Sánchez.
The state attorney general’s office identified Martínez Trujillo as the attacker who shot Gómez, while Acosta González was driving the motorcycle carrying both men at the time of the murder. According to Sánchez, Juan Pablo ‘N’ acted as a lookout while the attack took place.
All suspects are currently detained while the investigation proceeds, according to a conversation CPJ had with the homicide prosecutor during a visit to Chiapas on November 12, 2018. Sánchez emphasized during that meeting that Gómez’s work as a journalist continues to be the principal suspected motive for the murder.
Gómez, 41, was a correspondent for El Heraldo de Chiapas for eight years, Gallegos told CPJ. He covered general news, including crime and violence. Gallegos said that Gómez recently covered crime and security in the Yajalón region. He had also written stories about political developments after the July 1 Mexican general elections, which included elections for Chiapas governor and mayors in the state. CPJ was able to retrieve several stories authored by Gómez in recent months, including an article about an alleged homicide on September 11 and one about a family that survived an attack by unknown gunmen on June 29, both in Yajalón.
In June 2016, Gómez reported receiving death threats on Facebook after he published an article about accusations of alleged corruption made against federal congressman Leonardo Rafael Guirao. In an interview with press freedom group Article 19, the reporter said that on June 15, 2016, the congressman’s driver, known in the region as ‘El Francotirador’ (‘The Sniper’), wrote on Facebook that he was "going to blow [Gómez’s] head off." Gómez said that the next day, an unknown individual warned him that a group of seven unidentified men planned to abduct him.
CPJ was unable to obtain contact information for Leonardo Rafael Guiraro.
On June 25, 2016, Gómez reported the threats against him to Chiapas state attorney general Raciel López Salazar. The reporter’s sister, Nancy Gómez, told newspaper El Universal on September 21 that the state authorities provided him with police protection for three months, but that the threats were never properly investigated. She said that Gómez no longer left his home in the evenings after he had received the June 2016 threats.
Mario Gómez had received threats and had police protection for some time, El Heraldo’s news director Gallegos confirmed to CPJ. Gallegos told CPJ that he was unaware of more recent threats against Gómez, but said that the Yajalón region has, in recent months, seen an increase in deadly violence. "Drug trafficking gangs have been steadily more active in that area," he said. "Mario told me that the situation in Yajalón is tense. Several people were found killed there in recent months."