Block mountains

Jesuits stay in Mexican mountains after priest murders

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Two months after the deaths of two Jesuit priests in an isolated mountain community in northern Mexico, the suspected killer remains at large and residents are scared, but the religious order says he is not leaving.

The murders of Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora, along with a tour guide they were trying to rescue, sparked anger in Mexico and the Roman Catholic Church. Frustration grew with the failure to capture the suspect, the alleged leader of a local drug gang, José Portillo Gil, aka “El Chueco” or “The Crooked One”.

Two priests who survived the attack remain at Cerocahui Parish in the Tarahumara Mountains of Chihuahua state, but are now moving with military escorts.

Despite the killings and continuing security concerns, the Jesuit order rejected any idea of ​​closing its mission there. He is sending two more priests and a person studying for the priesthood, said Jorge González Candia, an adviser to the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus in Mexico, which has been assigned the case.

“We saw very clearly that we could not withdraw because of the fear or the insecurity that exists,” González said.

Tensions rose in Cerocahui after a video circulated on social media last week of a masked individual who identified himself as Portillo Gil. The man denied being responsible for the murders, said he knew what really happened and appeared to be making a veiled threat against one of the surviving priests.

González said it was “incredible” that 1,000 soldiers and 200 National Guardsmen deployed in the area could not find Portillo Gil. A reward of approximately $250,000 was offered.

“After this video, we are asking for protective measures,” González said. The Jesuits fear that the gang could attack their people in the area, which had not happened before in their decades of working with the indigenous communities of these mountains.

Portillo Gil already had a pending arrest order, but continued to roam the area with impunity. He was also charged with the 2018 murder of Patrick Braxton-Andrew, a 34-year-old Spanish teacher from North Carolina who was traveling in the Tarahumara Mountains. Portillo Gil’s gang apparently suspected Braxton-Andrew of being an American drug agent.

Portillo Gil’s gang is believed to be linked to Los Salazar, which is associated with the Sinaloa Cartel.

After the killings, the army established a base in the area. Soldiers now accompany the Jesuits when they travel through the region.

González Candia said that the two surviving priests who remained in Cerocahui asked to do so because “there is a love for the land, the culture, the people and they also see the need to accompany the mourning” . However, he said the order continues to assess their situation.

When asked if the capture of Portillo Gil would solve the crime problems in the region, González Candia said that it had been seen elsewhere that “when you only catch one boss, criminal groups multiply, the number of crimes is increasing and the prisons are filling up”.

Investigation, modification of local structures and political will are needed to bring about the changes that will generate peace, he said.