Ismael Villagómez, a photographer for the Heraldo de Juarez newspaper, was found shot to death in his car in Ciudad Juarez, a city plagued by drug cartel violence. The incident, announced by prosecutors on Thursday, has sent shockwaves through the journalistic community in Mexico.
Villagómez, who worked a second job as a ride-hailing driver due to low journalism salaries, was discovered in the driver’s seat of a registered work vehicle early Thursday morning. Notably, his phone was missing from the crime scene. Article 19, a press freedom organization, confirmed his murder via Twitter, noting the time of discovery as approximately 1:30 a.m.
Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, has long been a battleground for drug cartels. The city’s violent history includes a notable incident last year where two prison inmates were killed and twenty injured in a gang-related riot. These gangs often oppose the publication of photographs depicting their activities or victims.
Carlos Manuel Salas, a prosecutor in Chihuahua state, is leading an investigation to determine if Villagómez’s murder is connected to his journalism work or his side job.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has urgently called for a thorough investigation into the killing. Villagómez’s death marks the fifth journalist murder in Mexico in 2023, a country known for its high level of danger for journalists.
Among the recent victims was Jesús Gutiérrez, killed in September in San Luis Rio Colorado, and Marco Aurelio Ramirez, shot in Puebla region in May. Mexico’s alarming record includes the documented killings of at least 52 journalists in the last five years by the Committee to Protect Journalists, making it one of the deadliest countries for media professionals.
2022 was particularly lethal, with 15 journalist deaths, ranking Mexico just behind Ukraine for journalist fatalities. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes that at least three of these were direct retaliations for reporting on crime and corruption.
Coinciding with Villagómez’s death, the Committee presented its 2023 International Press Freedom Award to Mexican journalist María Teresa Montaño, recognizing her courage in the face of threats and abductions related to her investigative reporting on state-level corruption. The award highlights the perilous environment in which Mexican journalists operate, often facing violence with impunity.