Mexican photojournalist found shot to death in his car in Ciudad Juarez near U.S. border

A photographer for a newspaper in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, which has been dominated by drug cartels, was found shot to death, prosecutors said Thursday.

The body of news photographer Ismael Villag贸mez was found in the driver’s seat of a car Thursday in Ciudad Juarez, a violence-plagued city across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Villag贸mez’s newspaper, the Heraldo de Juarez, said he was found dead in a car that he had registered to use for work for a ride-hailing app. Given low salaries, it is not uncommon for journalists in Mexico to hold down more than one job. The newspaper said his phone was not found at the scene.

In a tweet, press freedom organization Article 19 said Villag贸mez was found murdered in the car at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Ciudad Juarez has been dominated by drug cartels and their turf battles for almost two decades, and gangs often object to photos of their victims or their activities being published.

Last year in Ciudad Juarez, two prison inmates were shot dead and 20 were injured in a riot involving two rival gangs. Local media said both groups were linked to the Sinaloa cartel, whose former leader, Joaquin聽“El Chapo”聽Guzman, is serving a life sentence聽in the United States.

Carlos Manuel Salas, a prosecutor for the northern border state of Chihuahua, said authorities are investigating whether Villag贸mez had a fare at the time, or whether the killing was related to his work as a photographer.

The Committee to Protect Journalists made an urgent call for authorities to investigate the killing.

Agents from the Chihuahua prosecutor's office check the area where photojournalist Ismael Villagomez Tapia was murdered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Nov. 16, 2023.
Agents from the Chihuahua prosecutor’s office check the area where photojournalist Ismael Villagomez Tapia was murdered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Nov. 16, 2023.

Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

His death was the fifth instance of a journalist being killed in Mexico so far in 2023.

In September, Jes煤s Guti茅rrez, a journalist who ran a community Facebook news page, was killed in the northern Mexico border town of San Luis Rio Colorado when he was apparently caught in the crossfire of an attack aimed at police.

Prosecutors in the northern border state of Sonora said Guti茅rrez was talking with the police officers, who were his neighbors, when they were hit by a hail of gunfire, killing one policeman and wounding the other three. They said Guti茅rrez’s death was “collateral” to the attack on the police.

In May, a journalist who was also a former local official was shot dead in the country’s central Puebla region. Marco Aurelio Ramirez, 69, was killed in broad daylight as he left his home in the town of Tehuacan. He had worked for decades for several different media outlets.

At least two other journalists have been killed so far this year in Mexico, which has become one of the deadliest places in the world for journalists outside a war zone.

In the past five years alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented the killings of at least 52 journalists in Mexico.

Last year was the deadliest in recent memory for Mexican journalists, with 15 killed. That year, Mexico was one of the deadliest places for journalists, second only to Ukraine.

At least three聽of those journalists were murdered in direct retaliation for their reporting on crime and political corruption, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Villag贸mez’s death came on the same day that the Committee to Protect Journalists presented its 2023 International Press Freedom Award to Mexican journalist Mar铆a Teresa Monta帽o.

In 2021, three unidentified men聽abducted聽and threatened to kill Monta帽o, then a freelance investigative reporter, as she attempted to board a public bus. Monta帽o told the group that she had been working on a corruption investigation involving state officials, and the men who kidnapped her stole notes and files concerning the investigation.

“Honoring Monta帽o with this year’s IPFA is a powerful recognition of independent regional journalism in Mexico, where reporters often face extreme violence committed with impunity,” the group said.

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