Latin America

Families desperately seek loved ones after Mexican prison riot

“There are decapitated bodies inside,” says man whose brother witnessed “the slaughter”

Juan Diego Quesada
Families of inmates held at Topo Chico demand information about their loved ones.
Families of inmates held at Topo Chico demand information about their loved ones.Miguel Sierra (EFE)
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“Ahí dentro hay decapitados”

Today is not visiting day at Monterrey’s Topo Chico prison; today is for finding out if your loved ones inside are still alive.

A massive riot in the north Mexican jail early on Thursday morning left 49 inmates and guards dead and 12 others injured. The incident – which began with a confrontation between rival gangs and ended with the army being called in – was one of the worst prison uprisings in Mexico in recent memory.

After hearing the news before dawn, Pancho immediately jumped into his vehicle and drove to Topo Chico at high speed, even running stoplights, to learn news about his son.

Israel Saucedo is serving a 10-year sentence there for “breaking God’s laws” or, in other words, murder.

“I am not moving from here until I find out about my son”

The entrance to the prison is chaotic with people screaming and pushing, but Pancho remains calm and waits in line under the hot sun as if preparing to take confession. His wife is concerned; she tells him to eat some tacos and drink some water or otherwise the heat will get to him.

“I am not moving from here until I find out about my son,” he says.

According to preliminary reports, the confrontation broke out at around midnight Wednesday inside the prison between rival gangs who are fighting for control of Topo Chico, the oldest penitentiary in Monterrey.

In the end, Nuevo León state authorities reported that 49 people had died but no names were given.

Shocked family members who began gathering outside Topo Chico tried to force their way in so they could see with their own eyes whether their loved ones were dead or alive.

Police officers tried to control the situation as much as they could, organizing two lines for family members to enter section C and section B, the two areas where the riots took place.

“When all hell broke loose and the fires started, they opened the cells” 

Víctor Omar Solís, who came from Sabinas, a town in another state 90 kilometers away, waits in the first line. He wants to find out if his brother Rubén, who is serving time for robbery, is all right.

“Let me explain: he was riding in a stolen car going to Sabinas when the police stopped them,” he explains. “The one who was driving was convicted for robbery and he was charged with being an accomplice. Yes, my brother was a dumb ass.”

A few moments later an aunt phones Víctor to tell him that she saw Rubén on a Televisa newscast. He was seen leaning on a rail, alive and well. But Víctor isn’t convinced.

Until he speaks with his brother, and hugs and kisses him, he won’t remain calm.

Another man with sweat running down his forehead was able to enter the prison to speak to his brother, who is serving time for murder. The man doesn’t want to give his name, but explains that his brother, who is being held in another section, witnessed “the slaughter.”

“He told me that it was all done to win control [of the prison]. They took over the square located inside, but there should have been some type of authority – not those good-for-nothing pussycats.

“He told me that there are decapitated bodies in there. Those guys [the guards] won’t even go inside. When all hell broke loose and the fires started, they opened the cells,” he says.

Shocked family members who began gathering outside Topo Chico tried to force their way in

Men and women are allowed to mix together inside Topo Chico. Melisa Berenice met Marco Antonio in a workshop, and two months ago she gave birth to a girl whom she named Graciela Esperanza. There is a nursery inside the prison.

Melisa Bernenice’s aunt has asked the guards to let her take the baby out to a safer place, but she is told she will first have to fill out the paperwork for the social services.

In a fit a rage, she tries to climb the walls of the jail but falls to the ground, failing to realize that it is more difficult to get inside a prison then get into one.

At section B, a young boy climbs a wire fence until he reaches the spikes. He cuffs his hands around his mouth and yells: “I love you, fat guy.”

A hand reaches out from one of the barred windows acknowledging the youngster. From this distance, the inmate looks skinny.

But the jovial mood changes around the corner where forensic officials slowly begin bringing out the bodies of those killed during the uprising. For once, it is a good thing to be remaining inside.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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