National Geographic : 2017 Jul
124 national geographic • July 2017 T here’s no missing the signs that something unspeakable happened in Allende. Entire blocks lie in ruins. Once garish mansions are now crumbling shells, with gaping holes in the walls, charred ceilings, cracked mar- ble countertops, and toppled columns. Strewn among the rubble are tattered, mud-covered remnants of lives torn apart: shoes, wedding in- vitations, medications, television sets, toys. In March 2011 the quiet ranching town of about 23,000, just a 40-minute drive from the Texas border, was attacked. Gunmen from the Zetas cartel, one of the most violent drug-trafficking organizations in the world, swept through Allen- de and nearby towns like a flash flood, demolish- ing homes and businesses and kidnapping and killing dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, wom- en, and children. But unlike most places in Mexico that have been ravaged by the drug war, what happened in Allende didn’t begin in Mexico. It began in the United States, when the Drug Enforcement Administration scored an unexpected coup. An agent persuaded a high-level Zetas operative to hand over the trackable cell phone identification numbers for two of the cartel’s most wanted king- pins, Miguel Ángel Treviño and his brother Omar. Then the DEA took a gamble. It shared the intelligence with a Mexican police unit that has long had a problem with leaks. Almost immedi- ately, the Treviños learned they’d been betrayed. The brothers set out to exact vengeance against the presumed snitches, their families, and any- one remotely connected to them. Their savagery in Allende was particularly sur- prising because the Treviños not only based some operations nearby—moving tens of millions of dollars in drugs and guns through the area each month—they’d also made it their home. For years after the massacre, Mexican author- ities made only desultory efforts to investigate. They erected a monument in Allende to honor By Ginger Thompson Photographs by Kirsten Luce ABOUT THIS STORY ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit, investigative newsroom, and National Geographic teamed up on this story. Ginger Thompson, a ProPublica senior reporter, spent months researching the massacre, interviewing sources on all sides, and writing the article. Kirsten Luce photographed it for National Geographic. Additional reporting was done by Alejandra Xanic, a freelance journalist in Mexico.