Mexico’s largest state rocked by slayings of 346 women since 2011
VILLA CUAUHTEMOC, Mexico — Just like any other day, Dr. Jessica Sevilla Pedraza went to work at the hospital that morning, came home for a quick lunch and then left again. The plan was to see more patients, hit the gym and be back in time for her usual dinner with dad before he went to his night-shift job.
Instead, a hospital co-worker showed up at the family’s door in the evening. She said a man had come in with a bullet wound in his leg and told doctors he had been with Sevilla when gunmen intercepted them, shot him and took off with the doctor in her own car.
“Ma’am,” the woman told Sevilla’s mother, Juana Pedraza, “it’s my duty to tell you that we cannot locate your daughter.”
Two days later, Pedraza identified 29-year-old Jessica’s body at the morgue. She had been shot in the head and decapitated, and the skin had been flayed from her skull.
“I can’t understand why,” Pedraza said. “Why so much fury? Why so much hate?”
Sevilla’s gruesome death was part of a wave of killings of women plaguing the sprawling State of Mexico, which is the country’s most populous with 16 million residents and surrounds the capital on three sides. The crisis of femicides — murders of women where the motive is directly related to gender — prompted the federal government to issue a gender violence alert in 2015, the first for any Mexican state, and has recently prompted outcry and protests.
No safe place or time of day
Sometimes the deaths are caused by domestic abuse. Other killings appear to be opportunistic, by strangers. Often the bodies are mutilated and dumped in a public place. There is no safe place, time of day or activity.
The week before Sevilla’s killing, 18-year-old Mariana Joselin Baltierra vanished when she walked to the corner store in Ecatepec, a hardscrabble suburb of Mexico City. Her body was found in a butcher shop next door; she had been sexually assaulted and disemboweled.
In June, Valeria Teresa Gutierrez Ortiz, 11, disappeared in Nezahualcoyotl after taking a public bus home from school. She was later found dead in the abandoned vehicle, partially clothed and with signs of sexual assault.
The State of Mexico officially ranks second to the nation’s capital with 346 killings classified as femicides since 2011, according to government statistics. Dilcya Garcia Espinoza de los Monteros, deputy state prosecutor for gender violence crimes, said femicides fell by about a third between January and July this year compared with the same period in 2016.
The government’s classification of “femicide” allows significant room for interpretation, and many say the official figures are understated and unreliable. Violent crimes such as disappearances often go unreported and unpunished, and the State of Mexico is widely considered ground zero for killings of women in the country today. The nonprofit Citizen Observatory Against Gender Violence, Disappearance and Femicides in Mexico State counted 263 femicides in 2016 alone.
Crime and corruption
Before Mexico State, it was Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso that was notorious for killings of women, with nearly 400 slain there since 1993 and only a handful of cases resulting in convictions. Common to both places are marginalized, peripheral communities with high levels of violent crime, corruption and impunity.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was Mexico State’s governor before assuming the presidency in 2012, said during his state of the union address this year that the country’s rising murders have more to do with common crime than organized crime.
Pink crosses bearing the Spanish words for “truth,” “justice” and “restitution” in downtown Nezahualcoyotl remind residents of the June slaying of an 11-year-old schoolgirl.