National Geographic : 2017 Jul
136 national geographic • July 2017 The gunmen invited townspeople to take whatever they wanted, triggering a frenzy of looting. Rodríguez, victim’s wife: Saturday is when ev- erything began. Houses began exploding. People began breaking in and looting, and all I could think about was where Everardo might be. All day Saturday I spent searching and calling peo- ple to ask, “What have you heard?” One person told me, “I saw armed men.” An- other told me, “The warehouses are still on fire. The smoke is really black, as if someone’s burn- ing tires. It’s black, scary smoke.” I got a call from a man who worked with my husband. My husband raised fighting cocks. In this region cockfighting is very popular. He worked for José Luis Garza, but not full time. In the mornings and in the afternoons, he would go to the ranch to feed the animals. The man told me, “There’s something bad go- ing on at the ranch. We don’t know what’s hap- pened to all the people.” I asked, “What do you mean? What people?” He said that several of the men who worked with my husband had not arrived home the pre- vious night. One was a tractor driver. Another watered the fields. None had arrived home. I asked him, “OK, what do we do? Let’s go look for them.” He said, “Don’t go anywhere near there, or else they’ll take you too.” The image of one thing that happened is still with me: people breaking into supply stores and carrying away sacks of animal feed, parrots, and cages. They were taking lamps and dining room sets. The image that sticks with me most is of a tiny motorcycle with a woman riding on the back. She had turned a bedsheet into a sack. She had stuffed it full of things and was carrying it like Santa Claus, with one hand. And with the other she was holding a lamp. The motorcycle looked like it was going to tip over, but they looked hap- py with all the stuff they had taken. Márquez, hot dog vendor: I had two friends who collected and sold junk. They heard that the ranch was burning and that the owners had left, so they went—a father and son—to see if there was anything worth taking. They said they saw a freezer off the highway, a big one. And they want- ed to take it. But it was really heavy. So the father told the son, “Let’s dump what’s inside.” They opened it and saw two bodies. They ran away. Evaristo Rodríguez, a veterinarian, and Al- lende’s deputy mayor at the time: All the members of the town council met, not in formal session, but we all gathered—the council mem- bers, the public security director. There were a lot of questions. The main one was, “What’s happening?” But what everyone really wanted to know was why. We already knew there had been gunfire and that there were cases of disappear- ances and deaths. There were a lot of questions about what we should do, but no one wanted to take charge. One of the council members even said, “Let’s just get out of here, before something happens to us.” I didn’t want to be a hero, but I thought at the very least we should stay in our offices so that people would see that we had not abandoned them. But all the staff wanted to leave. Everyone was focused on their own families. With all that we were going through, we dis- trusted everyone. We realized that there was a two-sided government, the official one and the criminal one that was in charge. We knew that the police were controlled by criminals. The director of public security told us, “These are their affairs.” He didn’t say any more. He didn’t need to. I understood: “Don’t investigate or intervene, or else.” Lira, victim’s wife: The last phone call with Rodolfo was at a quarter to noon. He sounded exhausted. He still hadn’t heard anything from his parents. I told him he had done everything he could for them, and now it was time to think about Sofía and me. I begged him to come meet us in Eagle Pass. He said, “OK, I’m on my way.” I never heard from him again. ‘It was as if they had kidnapped me too. They killed the future we had, the plans, the dreams, the illusions, the peace, everything.’ María Eugenia Vela, lawyer and wife of victim Edgar Ávila n Online ProPublica and National Geographic are each publishing an expanded version of this story online. To read it, go to ngm.com/Jul2017.