Pedro Tamayo Rosas, 43, was shot in front of his wife outside their home in the town of Tierra Blanca, in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz, by unknown assailants on July 20, 2016. He died on the way to a nearby hospital, according to media reports. At the time of the attack, the freelance correspondent for the regional newspaper El Piñero de la Cuenca and news website Al Calor Político was enrolled in a Veracruz state-sponsored protection program for journalists who have been threatened and was under police protection, after temporarily fleeing Veracruz earlier this year. Colleagues and authorities were unable to tell CPJ if the threats were in relation to his work.
According to initial reports from police and news media, a black vehicle pulled up to Tamayo’s residence at approximately 11 p.m. At the time, the journalist was sitting outside by a food stand that his wife runs from their home, a friend of the family who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Two men exited the car, approached Tamayo, spoke with him briefly, then shot him at short range multiple times before fleeing.
In an interview with CPJ, Veracruz state Attorney General Luis Ángel Bravo said that the victim died of “at least” 10 bullet wounds while in an ambulance on his way to the hospital, and that “more than 10” cartridges from 9-millimeter bullets had been found at the crime scene. He said initial investigations suggested that the suspect’s car had four occupants.
“Our main line of investigation is focused on the victim being killed because of his work as a journalist,” Bravo told CPJ in a telephone conversation on July 21. “But we are not disregarding other possible motives.” Bravo said he was unaware of any threats Tamayo may have received in recent days or weeks, but repeated that the investigation was ongoing.
As part of the state protection program, police checked in on Tamayo on a daily basis. Bravo told CPJ that there was record of a state police patrol checking in with Tamayo in the morning of the day he was killed, but he did not provide further details. A close friend and colleague, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisal, told CPJ the police patrol did not show up on the day of the attack.
Tamayo’s colleague said that the journalist had worked with Veracruz law enforcement as an informant. “He would provide law enforcement with information about organized crime he gathered while he was working as a reporter,” the colleague told CPJ. “It is not an uncommon phenomenon in Veracruz, though not openly spoken about.”
Bravo confirmed to CPJ that there was a “registry of a professional relationship” between Tamayo and state law enforcement, but said he was unable to provide more details as to what the relationship entailed.
The Veracruz state attorney general’s office said in a press release on July 21 that eight police officers had voluntarily appeared before the prosecutor to answer questions in relation to the case.
The working relationship with state authorities ended after Tamayo fled Veracruz temporarily on January 25 following death threats, his colleague told CPJ. The colleague did not specify what the threats were related to. He said that Tamayo, his two sons, and his daughter-in-law found refuge in the state capital of Xalapa for 40 days and then spent another two weeks in Tijuana, in the state of Baja California, before returning to Tierra Blanca on March 8.
According to federal human rights sub-secretary Roberto Campa, interviewed on July 21 by the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, at the time Tamayo was offered the chance to enroll in the federal mechanism to protect journalists and was warned that it was still too dangerous for him to return to Tierra Blanca, but that the journalist refused. Tamayo’s colleague said he was unaware of such an offer being made to the journalist.
Tamayo reported mostly on crime, social issues, and protests. According to Al Calor Político, Tamayo’s last report was on the murder of a regional police commander and five others in the region.
“He covered news about crime and police operations,” Roberto Hernández, editor of El Piñero de la Cuenca, told CPJ on July 21. “I know he had received numerous threats in the past, but he never specifically discussed them with me.”
On July 23, the special prosecutor for crimes against free expression announced that they would join the Veracruz state attorney general in investigating the killing, according to press reports.
On October 31, unidentified individuals set fire to a home belonging to Tamayo’s widow, Alicia Blanco Beisa. According to news reports, Blanco and her children were working at a nearby food stand, and no one was injured. According to the newspaper Proceso, Blanco said she had received threats from the men who allegedly killed her husband. Hiram Gamboa, spokesperson for the Regional Deputy Attorney General’s Office Zona Centro in Veracruz, told CPJ that authorities had initiated an investigation into the fire.
Veracruz is one of Mexico’s most violent states. A number of organized crime groups have been involved in confrontations over lucrative drug and human trafficking routes. Journalists working in Veracruz told CPJ on July 21 that Tierra Blanca is one the state’s most dangerous cities because of its location near a railroad, which makes it a strategic hub for criminal gangs.