An investigation by journalist, Laura Castellanos and published simultaneously by Aristegui Noticias, Proceso and Univision reveals new evidence that federal police committed a massacre of civilians on January 6 in Apatzingán, Michoacan. Testimonies, photos, videos, radio transmissions and death certificates cast new doubt on the official version regarding civilian deaths.
Gruesome new details prove: #FueronLosFederales, it was the feds.
Video (Spanish) by Aristegui Noticias documenting the investigation of Laura Castellanos. Screenshots of this video and translation of the investigation follow below:
The official version of events as given previously by Alfredo Castillo, Commissioner for Security, who at the time was the highest federal authority in the chain of command, told the press that from two separate events on January 6, the death toll was nine people, that the dead were members of Los Viagras, said to be a new cartel in the state of Michoacan. Castillo reported that one person was run over during the eviction of a sit-in at Apatzingán city hall where federal forces detained 44 people charged with criminal association and possession of illegal firearms. Castillo said later in a second event, a group of armed people attacked a caravan of federal police who were transferring vehicles from the first event to be impounded. The official version of the second event that murdered 8 others was that they were “killed in crossfire by friendly fire”.
New reports tell a totally different story: 16 people dead, civilians executed at close range by federal police, dozens injured. The investigation by Laura Castellanos includes testimonies of 39 sources who, for fear of reprisals asked to remain anonymous. They include testimonies from 12 of the 44 people arrested and released from the first incident, 7 survivors of the second attack (3 who had been hospitalized), 1 legal representative, 8 civilian testimonies (neighbors, merchants, passersby), 6 family members who witnessed the attacks, 2 mothers of victims, personnel working at Ramon Ponce hospital and employees of the forensic medical service (SEMEFO). Video and audio recordings were published along with the investigation in Mexican media.
Those testimonies include witnesses who saw federal police execute unarmed civilians. Workers at Ramon Ponce hospital corroborate those accounts saying injuries they treated were indicative of shots fired at close range with expanding bullets.
At the order of “kill those dogs” they began to shoot to kill us.
The First Attack
On the night of January 6, 2015, about one hundred members of the rural forces, autodefensas and their supporters were holding a sit-in outside the premises of Apatzingán City Hall. They were demanding payment from the federal government who had co-opted and deputized them into a rural police force last year and were dissatisfied with the dissolution of their group G-250. G-250 had spent 8 months tracking Caballeros Templarios leader “La Tuta”, were fired afterwards without pay and incurred aggressions from the cartel because of their work.
The leader of the protest was Nicolás Sierra, one of 7 brothers said to be a member of Los Viagras. Sierra, also known as “El Gordo” gave an interview in September 2014 stating that they are not a cartel. Sierra identified himself as one of the leaders of the deputized rural forces that were going after La Tuta. At the January 6 sit-in, Sierra gave specific orders around midnight not to respond with weapons if they were attacked so they would not be treated like criminals.
Around 2am, radio transmissions from the rural forces reported the arrival of 20 truckloads of federal police. The federal police attacked around 2:30am to evict the sit-in. The attack lasted 15 minutes. Surveillance cameras in the plaza recorded unarmed people frantically running from side to side, trying to take cover.
A member of the rural forces who was captured witnessed civilians murdered in the first attack in the plaza:
“They yelled, ‘Put your hands up! Get on your knees!’ and when I went to put my hands up and kneel, another person further down near Tres Hermanos, who was already kneeling, they shot him in the face and he fell. He was on his knees, giving up, unarmed. They executed him.”
The Second Attack
Hours later at 7:20am, a caravan of about a dozen federal police carried the people who were detained from earlier in the evening along with impounded vehicles from the first attack. Survivors say that within the caravan there were wounded people who clamored for help.
Civilians heard them crying out and came with sticks in hand in an attempt to rescue them. Federal police fired on them. The 16 year old passenger in a red pickup truck carrying more workers filmed 37 seconds on his phone, a short video showing civilians with sticks at first advancing and then rapidly retreating from gunfire. Surveillance cameras also show a crowd of civilians running towards the caravan and then retreating.
A white truck traveled at the front of the caravan carrying 7 young workers, minors less than 20 years old, one of them just 16 years old.
A YouTube video shows 3 youths laying in pools of blood, one of them slowly moving his arms clearly still alive. The federal police never called for ambulances even though Ramon Ponce hospital is on the same avenue.
Meters behind the white truck, a black truck carried The Madrigal family, one of the members of Los Viagras of Apatzingán with his family. Witnesses say they cried out for about 20 minutes, pleading not be executed. Guillermo Madrigal, 20, died embraced by his mother. The whole family was murdered.
“They were screaming. There was a man, his wife, a daughter and others in the truck. They screamed. ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! We’re unarmed!’ and they cried and screamed. They all got out on the sidewalk and there on the corner they got them. They were alive there, protecting each other, they came and massacred them. They turned them into pieces.”
A neighbor heard federal police yelling, “Kill them! Kill them!” A second neighbor saw a youth bleeding out in the street for almost 1 hour.
“It was very sad. They seemed like they were consoling each other, they were alive and one touched the shoulder of the other.”
A radio transmission recorded by rural forces indicated that they were trapped and under fire:
“The federales are shooting! We can’t leave! A compañero just died here in my arms! Are we going to stay here to die until support arrives?!”
A cyclist also witnessed federal police making people get out of vehicles, get down on their knees and shooting them with their hands in the air:
“The civilians started to get down and they started to shoot them there. They kneeled and with their hands up said ‘don’t shoot, we’re unarmed’ and like that they shot them.”
Around 8am that morning Ramon Ponce hospital received a youth around 20 years old with a bullet in the chest. He was listed as a John Doe, identity unknown. A group of workers in a truck tried to rescue the injured and take them to Ramon Ponce hospital. A video shows a youth still alive, who had taken refuge in a restaurant being picked up by several people and lifted into a truck. The workers left him in front of the hospital and returned to rescue one more person from the scene. A medic from the hospital says they never received those victims. Their fates are unknown.
The gunfight ended, witnesses say federal police altered the scene and planted weapons. Photos taken afterwards show the bodies of the young men in the white truck in different positions and at different distances from the vehicle.
Federal police began gathering the bodies on stretchers, putting them into a truck and filmed video at that moment – and that was the footage released to the public after the attack.
4 people were hospitalized at Ramon Ponce. The pelvis, bladder and rectum of one of the victims were destroyed, he received emergency surgery. He had gaping wounds. Another arrived with bullet wounds to the head and abdomen. Medics determined that the second victim received a final blow that affected his brain. They observed that the injuries presented markings of powder on the skin that appear when someone is shot at a distance of 10-20cm (approximately 4-8 inches).
After 3 hours the hospital director, Dr. Carlos Torres Vega, tried to transfer them to Morelia but he was impeded by the federal police.
“The federales did not allow the boys to leave even though they were not being detained.” – Dr. Carlos Torres Vega
7 hours later the transfer was authorized. They first transferred the youth injured in the pelvis but it was already too late.
“He bled out a lot, we gave him 5-6 units of blood and while he was arriving to Morelia in the last booth, he died.” – Dr. Carlos Torres Vega
Employees in Ramon Ponce said that later mothers arrived looking for their daughters who were injured during the morning. They couldn’t find them, among the missing victims was a 2 year old girl.
None of the bodies from the Apatzingán attacks were delivered to the morgue in Apatzingán. One of the morgue workers said they received instructions that they were not to receive any of the bodies at their location because there were many and they only had capacity to receive about 10 bodies.
3 death certificates prove the transfer of cadavers at an average driving distance of 3 hours. Luis Alberto Lara Belmonte, 20 years old with injuries to both lungs and traumatic chest wounds was transferred to Lazaro Cardenas Semefo. Luis Gerardo Barajas Rodriguez, 18 years old who died from penetration of multiple projectiles from firearms in the abdomen was transferred to Zamora. Guillermo Gallegos Madrigal, 20 years old who died from penetration of projectile from firearms to the cranium was transferred to the Morelia Semefo.
In the official version of events, Alberto Castillo originally reported that on January 6, federal police had evicted armed criminals that had taken over the Apatzingán City Hall. He said they detained 44 people for possession of 13 illegal long arms (weapons commissioned only for military usage), one grenade and criminal associations. He said one person was run over during the eviction.
Workers however say that of the 44 people detained, 25 were from G-250 (rural forces deputized by the same Alberto Castillo to fight local drug cartel, Caballeros Templarios) and 19 others were civilians.
Castillo continued that at 7:45am in the morning, armed men attacked the caravan of federal police to take the impounded vehicles. According to Castillo, there were 8 people killed by “friendly fire”. He denied that there were any extrajudicial killings.
After the new revelations, the balance of the two attacks is that there were 16 extrajudicial killings. The real death toll is unknown. People fear reprisals if they report what they saw. Journalist Laura Castellanos was in Apatzingán 12-13 days after the massacre. She said federal police were still patrolling the area. Locals reported incidents of harassment and a general intimidating presence of federal forces in the areas where the massacres occurred.
On January 14 a judge ordered the immediate release of 43 of the 44 arrested people due to lack of evidence. One person still remains in custody and is in the process of being released.
16 days after the attack, on January 22 Castillo left his position. The commissioner of the federal police in Apatzingán was transferred to Guerrero. Until now they have not changed the official version of events.
Resulting from this new investigation, the PGR has said they will investigate the use of excessive force by federal police in Apatzingán. The authorities say they were made aware of the events through the submission of an anonymous video. Representatives of the federal police told Univision that they could neither confirm nor deny that the events currently being investigated corresponded to the massacre that took place on January 6.
We will continue to follow the Apatzingán case and update with new information as it becomes available.
Sources and additional reading:
El Independiente Hidalgo (initial reporting on Apatzingán massacre)
Michoacan Tres Punto Cero