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The five deaths, ie other murders linked to the assassination of Miroslava Breach:
After the murder of Miroslava Breach, the deaths of five other people have been linked to the crime, however, the Chihuahua authorities did not thoroughly investigate them. Two young women, a pilot, a martial arts teacher and another man were killed in 2017: all these deaths were associated with the murder of the journalist Miroslava Breach.
After more than 20 years dedicated to journalism, Miroslava Breach Velducea was murdered outside her home, in the city of Chihuahua, on the morning of March 23, 2017.
From the earliest hours, the State Government attributed the crime to the journalistic work of the reporter, who, according to what prosecutor César Augusto Peniche reported, revealed how an organization dedicated to drug trafficking – known in the southwest of Chihuahua as Los Salazar – “had influenced the appointment of candidates for mayor and police chiefs of Municipal Public Security.”
Every March, on the illegal landing strip of Chínipas , Chihuahua – a difficult-to-reach mountain town that borders the state of Sonora – norteño music singers land to celebrate Alfredo Salazar Ramírez’s birthday, aka “El Muñeco”, Sinaloa cartel member, prisoner in Mexico and with extradition order to the United States to face charges for cocaine trafficking.
Alfredo is the son of Adam Salazar Zamorano, “Don Adam”, imprisoned since 2011, and patriarch of a violent clan called Los Salazares that – Miroslava Breach denounced in her articles – has infiltrated local politics and police in several municipalities of the Sierra Tarahumara.
On Saturday, March 25, 2017, two days after the murder of Miroslava in capital Chihuahua, the inhabitants of Chínipas were invited to a horse race – in honor of Alfredo – on the landing strip of the town. Among them was Nitzia Mendoza, 18, and her friend Yoselín Morquecho, 17, who watched the race on the back of a pick-up truck parked next to the track.
It was two o’clock in the afternoon when the girls took a selfie. According to the press, at that moment a plane hit them in the head and they died right there. Although, the municipal authorities kept silent and tried to deny the facts, such an unprecedented accident became news worldwide.
Although the news of the accident of the two young women in Chínipas, Chihuahua was published in international media, in Chihuahua it was not investigated by the State Attorney’s Office, nor by federal authorities.
A witness to the events requested by anonymity told this group that the tragedy occurred because at the same time they landed, not one, but three or even four light aircraft. He said that an anguished or reckless pilot, went down to the end of the runway where people were congregated, and because he was not landing where he should, Yoselin and Nitzia did not see the aircraft arrive. “They lifted the plebas [girls] , took them to the health center, dropped them off, and the pilot automatically, immediately, went back; that fast,” he said.
Then, something happened that made all the Chinipenses mute: a group of armed people prevented people from leaving the town until they made sure they erased any photo or video from their mobiles.
This was published days later by El Diario de Chihuahua , and the witness confirmed: “When they left the track, there were people there and they picked up all the phones (…), they deleted everything there (…) then the people left. No one left before every phone was checked and they were released”.
When local media looked for municipal officials to interview them about the tragedy, none responded. The Chínipas police address denied that the accident had occurred at all. Unlike other parties in honor of Los Salazar advertised on YouTube where regional style musical groups and /or singers are seen exalting in their compositions the “feats” of the members of that criminal group in what are known as narco corridos (some of them persecuted by the DEA ), this time there were no traces on the Internet. British media Bellingcat, an expert in open source tracking, confirmed that “there is an absence of open source information from images and / or videos taken by event participants that March 25”.
The law of silence:
There was no investigation by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation that did not even include the accident among those that occurred in 2017, although it has the mandate to investigate it. The prosecution said it did not have the registration number of the aircraft. There was no further investigation.
When this group asked about the death of Nitzia and Yoselín, not only in Chínipas but in other places in Chihuahua or Sonora, some people hung up the phone when the reason for the call was explained, or shouted in panic that if they spoke they would kill them . Five people said that Los Salazar have intercepted mobile phones and even social networks.
Months later the possible reason for the secrecy was known. It was from December 25, 2017, when Governor Javier Corral posted on Twitter that Juan Carlos Moreno Ochoa had been captured – aka “El Larry” -, whom he identified as the “intellectual author of the murder of journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea “. “El Larry” is accused of being the head of the hitmen in Chínipas.
Governor Javier Corral announced the capture of “El Larry” on December 25, 2017. In local media it was reported that after committing the crime he fled to Chínipas in the plane that killed Nitzia Mendoza and Yoselín Morquecho. From: Javier Corral’s Twitter account (@Javier_Corral).
The brave journalist, who, like Los Salazares, was originally from Chínipas, had denounced that they were a lawless people. She herself had covered the displacements and murders caused by the territorial disputes of the group and their attempt to control the municipality and not only with weapons. They had managed to get the PRI to nominate one of its members (Juan Salazar Gaxiola) as a candidate for municipal president for the June 2016 elections.
After knocking down that candidacy – with an article that the Proceso correspondent also took out in March of that year – and despite receiving threats, Miroslava Breach continued publishing her investigations in La Jornada and El Norte in Ciudad Juárez . She accused the municipal president of being a protector of drug traffickers and the head of his police (the same who denied the accident) of being commanded by a nephew of Los Salazares with a criminal record. In the municipality, she wrote, drug trafficking groups had infiltrated the local political machine, like others in the state.
At the hearing that began the judicial process against Moreno Ochoa, “El Larry,” the indictment revealed that witnesses indicate that on March 25, this man took a plane from the Chihuahua International Airport to the mountains. He went with the university student Wilberth Jaciel Vega Villa, who, according to the prosecutor’s office, had taken the gunman to Miroslava Breach’s house to kill her.
In an article from another day at the court hearing, in December 2017, El Heraldo de Chihuahua reported that the “plane that killed young girls in Chínipas was from ”El Larry” and that “he returned to that town after supervising the murder of the journalist.” In fact, two witnesses agree that Vega Villa arrived in the village that afternoon and recorded a selfie that was taken and sent to a WhatsApp group. That young man, godson of Alfredo Salazar, is still a fugitive.
The circumstances surrounding the accident remain especially confusing. The versions overlap, sometimes contradict each other, and the identity of the passengers is different according to each source consulted: that the plane picked up a serious patient; that moved a singer; that a low armed man came down or that it was not one but several small planes that arrived at the same time.
The photographs of the lifeless bodies of the young women, which this group obtained, show that the mortal wounds are small and precise: barely two to five centimeters in length. It doesn’t seem like the kind of bruises that a moving plane would cause. The investigation apparently cataloged the incident as a reckless homicide and closed the case.
It is not clear who piloted the aircraft that landed in Chínipas that afternoon of March 25, 2017, but 16 days later, Jorge David Coughanour Buckenhofer, an aviator pilot who owned the AeroCoconor Aerotaxis Company, was shot dead when he left a restaurant in the city of Chihuahua. Coughanour was known for his ability to fly the mountain range, for using his vehicles as ambulances to transfer patients from geographic isolation, and for transporting political personalities (César Duarte and Javier Corral were his clients) and National Geographic photographers, mining businessmen or federal employees
The pilot Jorge David Coughanour was murdered on April 10, 2017. The media presented him as the pilot of Los Salazar and Jorge David’s father denied it. The crime itself and the filtering of false information were not investigated.
On the night of April 10, 2017, when leaving a restaurant, a car was placed next to Coughanour’s Mercedes Benz. One person came down and shot him at least six times. Although he had his credentials with them – as recorded in file 19-2017-0009981 – the investigating agents did not contact Coughanour’s family, nor did they respond to the insistent calls he received from relatives worried about his absence. His body was spent all night in the morgue, unidentified.
The Prosecutor’s Office inquired about the personal life of the pilot, his mountain clients, his bank accounts or if he was pressured to transport drugs, rather than the crime itself.
On April 12, the press published that the State Prosecutor’s Office had discovered that the gun used to kill Miroslava Breach was the same with which this other murder had been committed. Five days later, the director of the State Police, Oscar Aparicio, confirmed it. However, in a document dated April 11, an expert in forensic ballistics from the state government denied the coincidences.
Until the end of the year, when the governor announced the capture of “El Larry”, he returned to link the pilot with Miroslava. It was El Heraldo de Chihuahua who published, without citing sources, that Jorge David was “the pilot of Los Salazar”, and who helped the murderers of Miroslava escape, and, therefore, who also killed the two young women bystanders at the horse race.
On January 5, 2018, the injured father of the pilot published a denial in which he said: “No aircraft of the company (AeroCoconor) was flying through that area at the time of the fatal accident, both my son and his pilots were in Cd. Chihuahua, this was verified before the Prosecutor at the time. In fact, the State Prosecutor’s file has a photocopy of the AeroCoconor flight log, which runs from March 18 to 27, 2017 and does not record flights to Chínipas. Jorge David’s cell phone records, which the family took to the Prosecutor’s Office, showed that he was in Cd Chihuahua on those days.
The Herald said that the source of information about the alleged pilot of “El Larry” had been the Prosecutor’s Office. The journalist who wrote the article, a year later, became a policeman.
The karate teacher:
A week later, exactly on the 18th, at another point in the city of Chihuahua, the retired martial arts teacher and psychologist, Gabriel Ochoa Cárdenas, was shot to death in front of some chicken coops he looked after in the yard of a neighboring house. The police found in the man’s hand a Colt collection gun, caliber ‘.38 super’, with engravings: a portrait of Zapata, an Aztec snake and a phrase of the revolutionary, of which the armory only manufactured 200 pieces. Next to the body, a card warned: “This is the pig who murdered (sic) the journalist Miroslava by order of “El 80”.
Gabriel Ochoa Cárdenas was murdered on April 17; the state police director, Óscar Aparicio, said the crime was committed with the same weapon with which Miroslava was murdered.
“El 80”, Arturo Quintana, and in March 2017, he was chief in the northwestern part of the state of the group opposed to Los Salazar: La Línea, who works for the Juarez Cartel. “El 80” had supposedly also left a note a few meters from Miroslava’s body, claiming responsibility for her murder, as the first installment of this report explains.
The murder occurred a day after Corral announced that Miroslava’s murderers were located. The media spread that Gabriel Ochoa resembled the spoken portrait of the gunman who killed the journalist, although some details did not match, including that the suspect captured by security cameras on March 23 was a man of about 25 years, the former karate teacher was 56. The Prosecutor’s Office, in fact, showed the video several times to the older brother of Cárdenas Ochoa, who also clarified several times that his brother was not that hitman.
Little is known about Professor Ochoa’s life: he was a sullen man, had difficulty walking, had taught karate, and among his clients were police officers.
A karate alumnus, who was among the first to enter the field after hearing the shots, hinted when he was interviewed by this group that the gun he saw was different from the flashy gun the media published: “I heard that (the policemen) said that the gun was one color and when the photos came out in the newspaper it was a gun of another color. I didn’t know when they changed the gun.” In the police report and a testimony contained in the file they also describe a common weapon, not a fine and colorful gun.
The theory that a prosecutor shared with this group was that the murderers, knowing that they were located, killed the professor to mislead. He argued that the professor was murdered with a weapon of a different caliber than the one “planted” next to his body. And that this collected weapon with Zapata engraving was the one that killed Miroslava. Who planted that weapon, remains to be seen. Although the authorities have images of the cars in which the killers of the karate professor fled, no one has been arrested.
The man designated as a hitman:
A handwritten police report, dated December 20, 2017, indicates that the body of a male between 25 and 30 years old was found shot in a dirt road in Alamos, Sonora. He was identified as Ramón Andrés Zabala Corral, who, according to the Chihuahua Prosecutor’s Office, shot Miroslava Breach.
Andrés Zabala Corral was designated as the material author of the murder of Miroslava Breach; He was killed on December 19, 2017
Zabala was born, lived and died in Alamos, in the south of Sonora, in a strip of territory controlled by Los Salazares for drug and migrant trafficking.
There were never images at the Miroslava crime scene that captured the features of her murderer. The witness that the prosecutor of Chihuahua said he saw the hitman in full flight later testified before the Attorney General’s Office and said he had never seen his face. Zabala is also linked because, according to the file, his phone appears in the call log made by Vega Villa from the scene of the crime. The collective located three Facebook accounts in his name. His relatives in Sonora claimed that he was a quiet man, that he was leaving for a long time, that he had changed his cell phone and that he was annoyed if the family heard what was said about him in the street.
For sure it is not known how or when he fled to the mountains or what he did during the nine months he was a fugitive. An El Universal columnist published that a Federal Police report indicated that Zabala spent those months in Alamos, and that “El Larry”, after getting off the plane, had hidden in the Palmarejo mine, of the Coeur Mining complex, and that both were counting on the protection from the authorities. The representative of the mining company did not respond to the interview request for this report.
On February 9, 2018, almost a month and a half after Zabala’s murder, members of this group asked the prosecutor in the downtown area, Carlos Mario Jiménez, why they had not captured Zabala if, as Corral said, they had the murderers located since mid-April; He replied: “We decided not to ask for (help) from Sonora. No, because these people (Los Salazar) have many years there and everything and it would not be safer (…). It was a strategic decision.”
So far only Moreno Ochoa, “El Larry”, has been arrested and presented as responsible for the murder of Miroslava.
In the state and federal files consulted there are no signs that employees of the mining company who had been able to hide the fugitive had been investigated, although it was already published by media; that the logs of the flights that took off from the Chihuahua airport had been analyzed or that some pilot or personnel of the airport or public servant of Chínipas were called to testify in relation to the light aircraft. Nor are there reports made on any incursion into the mountain territory controlled by that family.
State prosecutor César Augusto Peniche never responded to the interview requests. It was recorded in the judicial process that it follows that the specialized federal prosecutor’s office (FEADLE) that took over has not provided new evidence to resolve the questions raised here.
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