National Geographic : 2017 Jul
the making of a massacre 141 him. That’s when I lost it. How could anyone kill a 15-year-old boy who’s afraid, and crying? The officials asked me what I wanted. I told them I wanted remains. They said that would be difficult, since my son was incinerated along with a lot of other people. Instead they brought me ashes and dirt from the place where he died. I asked them if I could go there. They told me it wasn’t safe. I told them I wanted to go anyway. So they escorted us in a caravan. I was struck by how close it was. I thought to myself, Gerardo was so strong that if only he could have gotten away and made it to the highway, he would have easily managed to make it home. Vela, victim’s wife: They gave me a death certif- icate dated the 19th of March 2011—the day after he disappeared. The only thing I asked them was whether they were certain they were right. They told me that the forensic specialists had not been able to test the fragments that had been recov- ered, so they couldn’t be 100 percent sure. But they told me they were confident that Edgar was there at the time of the massacre. I think it’s be- cause they had witness statements. I still don’t know what to believe. I hadn’t heard anything from them in five years; then, out of no- where, they ask me to believe the case is solved. Ibetthatifyouwereabletogetalookatmy husband’s case file, you’d see it’s empty. The Treviño brothers were eventually captured in 2013 and 2015, in operations led by Mexican marines. Since then, the cartel’s hold on Coahui- la has weakened, and nightlife has returned to Allende, though many residents remain emotion- ally scarred. They fixate on reports of drug-related violence, worrying that the Treviño brothers are exerting control over the drug trade from jail. The DEA takes credit for the captures but won’t say whether it has investigated how the in- formation about the PIN numbers wound up in the hands of the Zetas. Terrance Cole, Martinez’s supervisor in Dallas, and Paul Knierim, then a DEA supervisor in Mexico City who served as a liaison with the DEA-trained Mexican federal police unit, declined to be interviewed. But Martinez agreed to speak. Named agent of the year in 2011, he is now battling colon cancer, and so far aggressive treatment has failed. Russ Baer, a DEA spokesman, twice flew from Wash- ington, D.C., to Texas to monitor interviews with Martinez and another agent there. As Martinez spoke, Baer interrupted to stress that the top Zetas were in prison and the agency’s investigation was ultimately a success. Gonzalez, assistant U.S. attorney: Obviously I’m devastated by it. You know that in this line of work, there are going to be consequences. The potential for someone to get killed is always there. But to actually be involved in something like that and not being able to do anything is devastating. The goal was an honorable goal: to try to get these guys arrested and put in jail so that they would stop killing people. But at that point in the investigation, it had the opposite effect. Martinez, DEA agent: I gave it a shot. That’s the way I felt. I did the best I could do that day. I had the opportunity to get the intelligence and pass it on. I got it. I can’t very well go into Mexico and try to handle it myself. Russ Baer, DEA spokesman: As far as what happened in Mexico and the aftermath of the compromise, the DEA’s official position is: That’s squarely on Omar and Miguel Treviño. They were killing people before that happened, and they killed people after the numbers were passed. DEA did our job to target them and to try to focus and dedicate our resources to put them out of busi- ness. We were eventually successful in that regard. Our hearts go out to those families. They’re victims, unfortunately, of the violence perpe- trated by the Treviño brothers and the Zetas. But this is not a story where the DEA has blood on its hands. j ‘The potential for someone to get killed is always there. But to actually be involved in something like that is devastating.’ Ernest Gonzalez, assistant U.S. attorney Ginger Thompson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, has covered Mexico for years. She was previously Mexico City bureau chief for the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun. Kirsten Luce has documented life along the U.S. -Mexico border for 10 years.