The journalist had just left a physical therapy clinic with his two children when masked gunmen in a vehicle pulled up to his car and shot him four times in the head and neck. Ortiz Franco died at the scene. His children were unharmed.
Later that day, Mexican President Vicente Fox telephoned J. Jesús Blancornelas, Zeta's publisher and editor, to promise federal support for the investigation. The week after the murder, Zeta published an investigative article naming several possible suspects, including gunmen linked to the powerful Arellano Félix drug cartel.
One of the founders of Zeta in 1980, Ortiz Franco wrote editorials and worked on many investigative reports. He also served on a panel created by the Mexican government and the Inter American Press Association to review official investigations into the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda, Zeta's co-founder, and Víctor Manuel Oropeza, a columnist with the Diario de Juárez newspaper.
The Baja California State Attorney's office initially headed the investigation, but federal authorities assumed control in August. Federal prosecutor José Luis Vasconcelos said several men under arrest for separate crimes had identified the killers and connected the murder to the Tijuana drug cartel controlled by the Arellano Félix family. The connection to drug trafficking, a federal offense in Mexico, opened the door for federal investigators to take over.
Ortiz Franco seldom wrote about drug trafficking during his long tenure at Zeta, but he began to develop new sources in the months before he was killed. Investigators believe that Ortiz Franco was killed because of his work as a journalist and are considering stories he wrote about the Arellano Félix cartel as the probable motive.
Zeta has covered corruption and drug trafficking in Tijuana for many years, with its award-winning reports prompting threats and attacks against its journalists.
In November 1997, members of the Arellano Félix drug cartel wounded Blancornelas, and killed his friend and bodyguard, Luis Valero Elizalde. In April 1988, Miranda was fatally shot by two men working as security guards at a racetrack owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, an influential businessman who was elected mayor of Tijuana in August.