By Kristin Bricker
Mexicans returning home after Easter vacation were greeted with horrifying news: Mexican soldiers opened fire on a vehicle full of children as their family headed to the beach for Easter Sunday.
According to the victims’ complaint, the seven children and four adults were traveling in a Tahoe truck, driven by Carlos Alfredo Rangel, early Sunday morning. When the vehicle passed the military checkpoint, Rangel observed that the soldiers were alongside the highway. Rangel slowed down, but the soldiers did not signal for him to stop.
After passing the checkpoint, the soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the vehicle; the adults say that they even threw multiple fragmentation grenades.
They recount that they experienced moments of terror and confusion as they got out of the truck and tried to run for the brush. Martín Almanza carried his sons Bryan and Michel, but at that moment he felt a bullet graze him. His son Bryan was covered in blood. He died in his arms. Despite the fact that the civilians were screaming at the soldiers to stop shooting at them because there were children present, the soldiers ignored them and injured the other youngster, who died at the scene.”
From his hospital bed, injured driver Rangel told La Jornada:
All of a sudden they started shooting at us; I stayed with my wife and baby in the truck and they were shooting at everything that moved. We yelled at them that we had our family with us and they kept shooting. When we passed in front of them we even rolled down the truck’s windows so that they could see the kids, but I don’t know what happened.
When they saw me wounded they cocked their weapons and told me that they were going to kill me; I don’t remember anything after that… we were a family with seven children. My wife got out of the truck and ran into the brush with the baby and they kept shooting at her.”
Cinthia Salazar, the murdered children’s mother, told Milenio, “I never saw other people [at the scene] who were not soldiers. I saw the [soldiers].”
Salazar told La Jornada that she left her children’s bodies in a funeral home and went to her house to pick up photos of the boys for the funeral service. She found thirty soldiers surrounding her home. When she entered the house, she says soldiers burst inside, took pictures, searched the house, and interrogated her. Salazar told Milenio that soldiers also went to the funeral home where her children’s viewing was being held.
Hoy Tamaulipas reports that the dead boys’ family and friends held a protest outside a local military base:
With a protest outside the ‘Macario Zamora’ military base, family, friends, and neighbors of the two boys Martín and Bryan, 5 and 9 years old respectively, murdered by soldiers, expressed their condemnation of the armed forces and demanded that those responsible for the double homicide be punished.
With signs and banners in their hands, they reproached the soldiers for the shooting attack against 13 people last Saturday…
…A youngster held a sign with the phrase, ‘Please don’t shoot me, I’m a child.’ … Another said, ‘Get out murderous soldiers.'”
The Mexican corporate media’s overwhelming consensus on the incident, then, is that soldiers indiscriminately opened fire on a truck full of children at a military checkpoint.
So how did the US corporate media report the incident?
The AP’s story, “2 children killed in Mexico border state shootout,” published the day after the attack, reports:
A shootout in northern Mexico between soldiers and suspected drug cartel gunmen killed two children and wounded five of their relatives who were caught in the crossfire….
The 5- and 8-year-old brothers were traveling in their family’s car when the gunbattle broke out on a highway near the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the Tamaulipas state government said in statement Sunday night.
Two suspected gunmen were also killed.
Wait, what two suspected gunmen? What shootout between drug cartel gunmen and soldiers?
The AP was probably confused by initial government reports that claimed that soldiers killed “offenders” and in the process seized nine firearms, two rocket launchers, two rockets, two hand grenades, 5,089 bullets, 69 gun cartridges, and nine vehicles, including one armored vehicle.
The initial reports were suspect from the start. They claim that the soldiers came under fire during a routine reconnaissance mission along the highway. How could a group of soldiers who were taken by surprise by a nine-vehicle convoy armed with rocket launchers, grenades, and firearms repel the attack, seize nine vehicles and an enormous quantity of weapons, and not suffer a single casualty? Moreover, if the soldiers seized nine vehicles, where are the nine drivers? They are not counted among the dead, and the military doesn’t report a single detention. And what sane gunman opens fire on the military if he and his criminal colleagues only have nine guns? Furthermore, someone traveling with five thousand bullets and only nine guns is likely trafficking weapons, not attacking military targets. So what sane clandestine arms trafficker would un-clandestinely open fire on a group of unsuspecting soldiers?
As soon as the dead boys’ bodies appeared in a funeral home, the government dropped the ruse. The military and Tamaulipas state government press releases cited in the original media reports about the “shootout” have disappeared from government websites. Mexican press dropped the shootout version and reported that soldiers shot the boys. No one claimed the boys were killed in a shootout.
The AP seems to have combined the two conflicting reports to come up with its own version that claims four people (two children and two cartel gunmen) died in a shootout. No one–not even the government–has claimed that four people died when the boys were killed. Following the incident, not a single Mexican media outlet claimed that the boys were killed by crossfire from a shootout between soldiers and drug cartel gunmen. The press reports all agreed that soldiers killed the boys.
The Mexican government must have liked the AP’s caught-in-the-crossfire version of events: on April 8–four days after the shooting and three days after the AP story–Mexican Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont held a press conference claiming that the children were killed in a shootout between drug cartel gunmen and soldiers. This is the first time since the shooting that the government has claimed the boys died in a shootout. The family contradicts the government’s version and maintains that only soldiers were present at the scene, and that they never saw any civilian gunmen.
Gómez Mont promised that the government is investigating the boys’ deaths.
Kristin Bricker is a freelance journalist reporting from Mexico. She maintains a blog called My Word is My Weapon.