On Jan. 28, 2017, in Torreón, Serymar Soto was murdered.
Her fiancé Jorge intentionally ran over her with his car then fled the scene. The young 22-year-old woman held onto life for 7 days until she passed away, leaving behind her 2-year-old son.
A friend of hers witnessed the entire incident. Later, she told me that she had barely saved her own life by jumping out of the car’s way at the last second.
Seven months later, Jorge was located and arrested.
The crime took place in Coahuila, a state with 400 agents in its Criminal Investigations Unit as well as 300 detectives. Not a single one took part in the investigation that led to the arrest.
The arrest was only made thanks to Sandra, Serymar’s sister.
“The detectives’ unit always says they’ve located the suspect, but they never arrest anybody. That’s what they told us and I’m sure they tell everybody the same thing ... they swear over and over that they are making progress, that they have executed a warrant but they didn’t find anybody, but I am pretty assure they didn’t actually do anything,” Sandra tells us.
Serymar’s murder was a case in which the suspect was identified from the beginning. The evidence was indisputable: a survivor actually knew Jorge, his car was left at the crime scene because he lost control after running over his fiancée and crashed into a building. He then ran away.
But the days and weeks went by and no arrest was made. Sandra, who initially trusted the authorities, convinced herself that as more time went by, it would be harder to locate her sister’s murderer.
She finally decided to undertake her own investigation. She figured it would be possible to find someone of whom she had a current photograph, by having his first and last name, his full identity, especially once she shared Serymar’s story. “It was all about not letting her murder become just another case, a file number — that was for the authorities — but a victim who used to be full of life,” Sandra said in our interview.
She created a Facebook page “Los Machos nos Matan en México” (Macho men are killing us in Mexico). Each day, Sandra posted a new photograph of Serymar and told another story about her and about the murderer.
“The posts were intended to raise public awareness in hopes of attracting any bits of information … I thought to myself that somebody in hiding can not be completely isolated. My objective was to reach as many places as possible so that if somebody saw him, that person would be likely to come forward, because you can not simply go around killing people and not be held accountable,” Sandra said.
Seven months after the crime, as the date Serymar and Jorge had set for their wedding approached, Sandra uploaded a photograph of the wedding dress her sister would never use. A few minutes later, she got a private message on the Facebook page, and somebody told her Jorge was in Parral, Chihuahua.
Sandra went to the authorities. She went to the Coahuila District Attorney’s Office and asked that Chihuahua officials be called on to arrest the suspect.
“We did that because we knew that agents with the Criminal Investigations Unit go find him and instead of arresting him, they take advantage of the situation. They ask for money to not arrest him,” she said.
Jorge was arrested in Chihuahua and handed over to the authorities in Coahuila. Naturally, after the arrest the state district attorney’s office was credited with the success, with the claim that their “investigations” led to the apprehension.
This is not the only time Facebook helped capture a murderer.
The father of a young man murdered in 2013 at a food stand in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, tells the story that thanks to a search he did on Facebook with the help of his other son, he located the murderers.
“They were from Barrio 72 (a gang). We searched people from Barrio 72 on Facebook and found photographs. My other son (who witnessed the murder) identified them. We handed over all the photogrpahs to the district attorney,” he says.
The father said this occurred four months after the murder, during which time the Chihuahua District Attorney’s Office — which has more than 1,100 criminal investigators office agents on staff and another 1,000 detectives — did not share any progress at all in identifying the murderers.
“I provided them with the information, the district attorney hadn’t done anything up to that point and they had even told me I wasn’t giving them anything new. But two weeks after I provided the information, they arrested the suspects,” he recalls.
Graciela Zavaleta Sánchez, the president of the Mahatma Gandhi Regional Human Rights Commission, has gone to bat for many victims in Oaxaca over the past 30 years. She told us there are cases in which it is not enough that victims’ relatives provide police with key evidence or even identify the suspect. Sometimes, they even have to pay investigators to get them to go to locations where evidence can be found.
“The police don’t even have gas for their vans and the victim has to come up with ways to pay expenses if they want the police to stay on the case. If they do not pay for expenses, arrests might never be made,” says the activist.
In Sinaloa and Veracruz, victims’ families organizations end up doing the searching for the bodies of their loved ones, uncovering clandestine gravesites, primarily because they do not trust the police. In Guerrero, they raise money to pay for DNA tests, since the government claims there are insufficient funds to do them.
“Many times, victims are the ones funding investigations, they are the ones who go from village to village, they are the ones digging to find remains,” says Sofía Velazco, the president to the Nuevo León Human Rights Commission. “If it can successfully be done by people paying expenses out of their own pockets, authorities that have more resources and operational planning capabilities certainly should be able to.”
On the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2013, 24-year-old chef Roxana Moya Guerrero, arrived at her home in a middle class neighborhood in Monterrey when three armed men accosted her.
They threatened her and forced their way into her house. She cooperated, even opening the safe for them, handing over every item of value in the house. That wasn’t enough. Before fleeing, the criminals shot her in the head.
The shocking nature of the crime prompted the authorities to take action and, thanks to a security camera, the three criminals were located. Since then, however, Roxana’s parents have been through a nightmare as they struggle to rebuild a case that has fallen apart due to mistakes by the district attorney.
For instance, Roxana’s parents made the discovery that one of the suspects had a counterfeit birth certificate to appear to be a minor and avoid a stiff sentence. Despite warning the criminal investigators, no action was taken. So they obtained the real birth certificate.
Even so, justice was not done. They submitted the genuine birth certificate to the authorities who “forgot” to hand it over to the judge, who inadvertently treated him as a minor.
Roxana’s parents have since spent additional resources (they traveled from Monterrey to Mexico City) trying to get a higher court to reopen the case due to the criminal investigators’ negligence. But the fake birth certificate did the trick and the suspect was lightly sentenced.
“The authorities always treat us well. The secretary, the attorney general, they are always quite courteous. But our case is stuck, no progress. I don’t know if it’s because of their excessive workload or because of some sort of favoritism (to protect fellow professionals),” said Rosa Ana, Roxana’s mother.
The family has also suffered from frequent turnover with regard to the prosecutors managing the case and are also regularly frustrated by the stodgy bureaucracy that keeps the case from progressing.
“We are determined to keep going, because we are doing this for our daughter and more than anything we want to obtain justice for her,” Rosa Ana said. “We won’t give up. We must carry through to the end, because we want see the people that hurt us so badly be held accountable. They must pay for what they did.”
There are innumerable cases of other families with limited resources that conducted their own investigations. And this is not because they want to strengthen the official investigation, but to keep it from suddenly being closed. That’s what happened after Lucía Bravo Montalvo was murdered in March 2017 in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca. She was found dead inside her home.
Estrella, Lucía’s sister, recounts that for six months after the murder, the criminal investigators in charge of the case — and there were many because of frequent staff rotations — didn’t conduct a single hearing to move the case forward. To top it off, they concluded she had died of natural causes.
Estrella went directly to the forensics experts where she found the autopsy report that indicated her sister died due to the ingestion of a toxic substance similar to rat poison.
“I have a document from the forensic pathologist on which it is clearly stated that the cause of death was poisoning with rat poison (…) moreover, six months after she died, nothing further has been resolved and no additional statements were taken until I myself complained to the authorities and went directly to the deputy district attorney so they would take action and look into this,” she said.
Estrella says that when she finally “convinced” the Criminal Investigations Unit to take her statement, the agent was impatient and tried to rush her through it.
“He took the statement as if he was in a big hurry, because it was lunch time,” she said. “Afterward, I requested that he read the statement back to me and he told me that if I wanted to read it, he would come back later that night because he had to get something to eat.”
Despite these many obstacles, Estrella insists she will continue investigating and will keep pushing the authorities to do their job correctly. “They are upset with me for wanting to know the truth, but I will never give up.”
Sandra is another person who refuses to quit, even after the success of her Facebook page “Los Machos nos Matan en México.” She explains that even after successfully finding her sister’s murderer, the battles with the Criminal Investigations Unit continue, because they refuse to accept all the evidence the family has obtained.
With support from her attorney, she has come to realize that the case file on her sister is full of errors and that could be a problem if presented at court. That’s why she pesters the prosecutors to examine the facts more closely and correct the mistakes, while also admitting the additional evidence they uncovered. Sandra is afraid that the mistakes will ruin the case in court.
“Until there is a final sentence handed down and all appeals have been dismissed, I will not be able to say justice has been served,” Sandra says. “In the meantime, we will keep fighting (...) You can’t imagine how scary this is. You see corruption, impunity, indifference from authorities. We are not talking about public indifference … the authorities don’t seem to care! So of course there is a loss of faith in the system (...) if they had done their jobs correctly, I wouldn’t to raise my voice.”