New York lawyer group denounces massacre of migrants in Mexican state of Sonora

The state’s attorney general has only recognized three deaths, including a four-year-old child, after an attack by an armed group. A witness told 1800Migrante that up to 50 people were traveling in three vehicles that were attacked

An army vehicle patrols a rural highway in the Mexican state of Sonora.
An army vehicle patrols a rural highway in the Mexican state of Sonora.Christian Chavez (AP)

Four-year-old Jonzi was one of a group of migrants traveling across the Mexican state of Sonora last Thursday when the vehicles were attacked by an armed commando. The child, who had arrived in Mexico from Ecuador, died on the night of February 15, along with at least two other women. His death had gone unnoticed, added to the large number of missing, kidnapped and deceased migrants attempting to reach the U.S. border that nobody asks about and whose bodies nobody claims. But a New York law firm specializing in migrant issues, 1800Migrante, released a statement based on a witness account that spoke of a “migrant massacre” in Sáric, about 50 miles from the border with Arizona.

The news forced the Sonora attorney general to provide some explanations. For now, Gustavo Salas has only acknowledged the death of Yonzi and two women, while three other people were injured in the attack. He said on Monday that the New York organization’s claim of over 50 victims was “completely false.” An investigation is still underway. On Wednesday, 1800Migrante said that a fourth victim has been confirmed, an Ecuadorian woman from the city of Cuenca. “We demand transparency from the Sonora Attorney General’s Office!” said William Murillo, of the law firm, in a post on X.

The group had left in three vehicles from La Reforma, a small town in Sonora around 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the attorney general’s office, there were no more than 14 people in the group. But according to the witness account offered by 1800Migrante, there were at least 50 people. At least 25 men were in one of them, according to this account. The two other vans were filled with women and children. The attack reportedly took place in Cerro Prieto, near Sáric. “First we felt that a car hit us from behind and the impact knocked us off the road. It threw us into a small gully, after that, they turned on some lights and some men got out and the shooting started, they were machine gun bursts, they shot at us and we all ran to save ourselves,” said a Peruvian migrant named Carlos (an assumed name), in his testimony to 1800Migrante.

The man said he was able to escape because he ran through the desert with a group of five Ecuadorian men. He crossed into the U.S. and contacted 1800Migrante asking for help: he did not know anything about his sister, Ana Vidal, who was traveling with him that night. Vidal, 28, is one of the women confirmed killed in the attack. Her body has been recognized by video call by her family in Peru, the organization stated.

Another confirmed adult victim is Wendy Carranza, a Honduran citizen, who was traveling with her 15-month-old baby. Her brother Welvin told the network Univision that the woman was going to Texas to join her husband and other son, who already lived there. She called him from her cell phone after the attack: “She was alive for a long time after getting shot, with the baby there by her side. She felt the shot in her back,” said her brother, who is asking for help to repatriate the woman’s body to Honduras and to recover the baby, who is uninjured and was taken to a shelter in Sonora.

The hitmen set fire to two of the vehicles in which the migrants were traveling with grenade launchers. Murillo, president of 1800Migrante, said that the attackers used large-caliber weapons to attack the migrants. Attorney General Gustavo Salas has confirmed that the attack was carried out by an armed group, which the authorities have located. “In the last few hours, the Mexican Army has made important arrests in that area: they detained a complete cell of eight individuals with long-range weapons,” said Salas, adding that this is a federal investigation into human trafficking and that those who attacked the migrants are “groups that generate violence in the area.”

The explanation has not convinced the lawyer organization, which accuses the AG’s Office of “complicit silence,” since it had kept quiet about the attack until 1800Migrante made it public. “We feel a little perplexed that an office like ours, which is thousands of kilometers away, has more information than them. We are convinced that there are more deaths and they do not want to say it,” said Murillo, pointing out that some of the Ecuadorian witnesses with whom they have spoken saw charred bodies: “We don’t know who they are, but we do know that we have requests for help from different people, from Ecuador and other countries, who are looking for their relatives, and unfortunately we cannot coordinate the actions of the Attorney General’s Office because there is a blockage of information.”

Mexico has a dark history of migrant massacres. On August 24, 2010, Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, an Ecuadorian immigrant, walked into the Tamaulipas police station to report that his group had been kidnapped by Los Zetas. On a ranch in San Fernando, authorities found the dead bodies of 72 people. In that same location, clandestine graves with almost 200 bodies, most of them foreigners, were found in the following years. In 2021, 12 Tamaulipas police officers shot and set fire to 19 migrants in Camargo, near the border with the United States. Last year, a judge sentenced them to 50 years in prison.

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