Rubén Pat Cauich, co-founder and owner of the news website Semanario Playa News, was shot dead by an unknown attacker on July 24, 2018, in a bar in the coastal resort city of Playa del Carmen in the southern Quintana Roo state, according to news reports and a July 24 statement from the Quintana Roo state attorney general’s office.
An unknown male assailant wearing a cap approached Pat as he was exiting Arre bar around 6 a.m. with a woman whose identity has been withheld by authorities, according to news reports and the July 24 statement. The attacker shot the journalist six times and immediately fled; Pat died from injuries at the scene, according to the same sources. The woman was not injured, according to the same sources.
The state attorney general’s office said in the statement that it has not discarded any line of investigation, including Pat’s work as a journalist, as a possible motive for his killing. The office has not made public the type of weapon with which the reporter was shot or if it knows the attacker’s identity.
In a July 25 text message to CPJ, Quintana Roo state attorney general Miguel Ángel Pech Cen said that his office had assigned a team to investigate Pat’s killing.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, who heads the office of the Federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), told CPJ on July 25 that his office had opened an investigation into Pat’s killing and that it had sent investigators to Quintana Roo. He told CPJ that his office provided support to the local authorities.
On August 7, 2019 local media in Quintana Roo state reported that a 43-year-old man named only as Ernesto “N” had been arrested the night before in Playa del Carmen. According to the reports, “N” (commonly used by law enforcement agencies in Mexico to reserve a suspect’s anonimity during ongoing investigations) was allegedly the leader of a local drug trafficking gang called Los Pelones, and was identified in the reports as the alleged mastermind of Pat’s murder.
The Quintana Roo state attorney general’s office has not publicly commented on the possible participation of “N” in Pat’s murder. Several attempts by CPJ to reach the attorney general’s office for comment by telephone on between August 20 and Augist 26 remain unanswered.
In a WhatsApp conversation on July 4, 2018, Pat told CPJ that he had received threats in the comment section of a recent article on Semanario Playa News following the death of his colleague José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, but did not specify which article or if he had worked on the article. "I think I need to leave Playa del Carmen for a while," Pat wrote on July 4. "No one [here can] guarantees my safety."
Chan Dzib was shot dead on June 29, 2018, by an unknown attacker in a bar in the small town of Sabán, approximately 260 km (162 miles) southwest of Playa del Carmen. Pat told CPJ that Chan Dzib–who reported on crime and security, politics, and other local news– received threats in the weeks before his death. CPJ is still investigating the motive in Chan Dzib’s killing.
Prior to Chan Dzib’s death, Pat also received threats, which he reported to federal and Quintana Roo state authorities in April 2018. Authorities enrolled him in a protection scheme under the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat. His protections, which was in place at the time of his killing, included a panic button and monitoring by officials.
A spokesperson for the mechanism did not respond to questions sent by CPJ via text message about the protection scheme.
In June 2017, Pat told CPJ that municipal police beat him, detained him overnight, and threatened him for his reporting in Playa del Carmen. No suspect was detained or charged in this case.
Semanario Playa News mostly covers crime, accidents, and local politics in the municipalities of Solidaridad, to which Playa del Carmen belongs, and Benito Juárez, which includes the city of Cancún, as well municipalities such as Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Pat, 41, founded Semanario Playa News, which operates on Facebook, in the fall 2016 with two other reporters.
CPJ was unable to determine whether Pat had written or posted any of Playa News’s most recent content– which included videos and short articles about a shooting and a beheading— as most of the posts do not carry a byline.
Playa News did not respond to CPJ’s Facebook messages in 2018 requesting comment.