The murder of Gisela Gaytán: A Mexican candidate without bodyguards and at the mercy of hitmen

A reconstruction of the last hours of the woman who wanted to be the next mayor of Celaya reveals an improvised tour in a community plagued by violence

Gisela Gaytán murder
Gisela Gaytán, hours before her murder, at the Morelos Market in Celaya on April 1.Antonio Marant (Campaña G. G.)

“Gisela was not afraid, on the contrary, she was super happy about the people’s response, there was trust,” says Raúl González Meza, the municipal territorial coordinator for Gisela Gaytán, a 37-year-old lawyer who was running as the candidate for the leftist party Morena to be the next mayor of Celaya, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Gaytán was shot dead on Monday on her first day of campaigning. Speaking just hours after the tragedy and still without any progress in the police investigation into the crime, her territorial advisor denies that there was any indication that an attack of such magnitude could occur. “She never spoke to me personally about threats,” he tells EL PAÍS.

Violence is a major issue in the country’s upcoming election. Guanajuato is in the grips of a security crisis that continues to escalate. Last December, six medical students were murdered in Celaya, and two weeks later, 11 young people at a Christmas party in Salvatierra were also killed. Security forces have also been targeted. In the last year alone, 22 officers have been killed in Celaya, one of the biggest cities in Guanajuato with a population of around 380,000.

A lawyer with a master’s degree in Administrative Justice and a former member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Gaytán had always focused her efforts on politics. She had helped González Meza years ago in a pre-candidacy for a federal lawmaker’s seat with Morena. Although El Profe did not make it into the candidate list, the experience allowed them to create a working duo that she tried to replicate on this occasion to make her own run for mayor of Celaya. As a key part of her team, González Meza was with the candidate at the beginning of the fateful day, both on the tour to visit vendors at Morelos Market and at the press conference she gave at the foot of the Bola de Agua, a city landmark.

Gisela Gaytán during the tour of the Morelos Market.
Gisela Gaytán during the tour of the Morelos Market.Antonio Marant (Campaña G. G.)

At around 2:00 p.m., their paths separated because he had agreed to meet with two local leaders and she had to leave for the community of San Miguel Octopan. González Meza was able to reconstruct the candidate’s last moments thanks to her party colleagues. “She was going to see two community leaders and before reaching those houses, about 100 or 150 meters away, she said, ‘Let’s walk down this street,’ because there were people there who wanted to greet her. That was the reason she stopped. It was her decision and no one thought about what might happen. She routinely stopped to greet people and never thought that anything would happen to her,” says her close aide.

González Meza recalls that a few hours before the murder, in the central Hidalgo market, there were about three or four municipal officers monitoring the route. The officers did not accompany her to the press conference or to San Miguel Octopan. González Meza assures that neither the candidate nor anyone on her team anticipated an attack of this magnitude. At the meetings prior to the start of the campaign, there was talk about a minor strategy to avoid a potential conflict with supporters of the opposition. In the event of such a situation developing, it would be Gaytán’s own group of 20 to 30 supporters who would safeguard her integrity.

The coordinator received the fateful news of Amy’s death, as he fondly called her, around 6:30 p.m. Incredulous, he repeated over and over again to the voice on the other end of the cell phone if they could call an ambulance. But the response from the other side was firm: Gaytán was dead after being shot in the middle of the street, to the horror of everyone present. San Miguel Octopan was one of the communities that Gaytán knew best due to Morena’s strongly rooted presence in that community. That was one of the reasons why the candidate had chosen this place as a starting point for her campaign.

Gisela Gaytán
Forensics work at the site of the murder, in San Miguel Octopan (State of Guanajuato), on Monday night.Juan Moreno (Reuters)

The festive, trusting atmosphere with no security fence with which Gaytán began her electoral campaign is confirmed by the journalists who were there on Monday. “In the market she seemed confident, enthusiastic, kind, warm,” says local AM reporter Jesús Patiño. He was the one who asked the candidate if she had requested security for her campaign. She responded that it had been requested through the Morena platform in Guanajuato. Gaytán was waiting for confirmation the same day she died: “Let’s see if they have an answer for us today.”

Gaytán’s political ambitions were boosted by an intense presence on social networks. Just 20 minutes before her death, the team had already uploaded photos of the politician chatting with supporters in the market. “She was a strong candidate. She ranked second in terms of the most winning options in the municipality of Celaya, according to surveys. The one who heads them is the current mayor and candidate, Javier Mendoza. She was in second position due to her popularity as a social worker,” says journalist Víctor Gómez. Gaytán promoted herself on her candidacy website as a “soccer fan” and “runner at heart.”

For the Morena team, Gaytán’s death will be a hard blow to overcome. However, González Meza affirms that they will not throw in the towel. He says that they will make more efforts to protect their projects and their legacy: “Gisela at this moment has already become a martyr, because it is not so easy for someone around these parts to accept a candidacy and she had the courage to do so, she had the strength to say ‘I’m going for it.’”

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