The massacre that took place on February 28 in San José de Gracia, a town in Michoacán that straddles the border of Jalisco. Video of the incident showed gunmen lining up at least a dozen people along a wall before appearing to mow them down with machine gunfire.
The footage quickly spread throughout the country and shocked even the most grizzled drug war observers.
During the morning press conference on March 1, Mexico’s Sub-secretary of Public Security Ricardo Mejía detailed the government’s version of what led to the bloodbath.
He claimed that it was a dispute between two factions of the CJNG, one led by a man named Alejandro, alias El Pelón, and another by someone named Abel, aka El Toro.
El Pelón had allegedly worked as a local CJNG boss in the region, with El Toro as his subordinate. Both men hailed from San José de Gracia and had family in the town. When El Pelón was imprisoned for a time, El Toro took the reins as the local boss in the area.
It’s unclear when El Pelón left prison, but in 2018, his brother disappeared. Mejía alleged that El Toro was behind the disappearance of El Pelón’s brother.
By December 2021, El Pelón was free and reportedly running a different CJNG cell in a different region further away from San José de Gracia. That same month, Mejía alleged that El Pelón took revenge on El Toro by murdering his brother. El Toro then threatened El Pelón, telling a relative of his that if El Pelón ever set foot in San José de Gracia again, he would be killed.
When the mother of El Pelón died from an illness in February, he arrived in the town with 15 bodyguards to protect him while he attended the wake. But shortly after arriving, El Toro showed up in several trucks with a number of armed associates who were able to disarm El Pelón’s men. They were then forced to stand outside, in front of a wall.
The shaky video that went viral on social media tells the rest of the story, which seemingly shows El Toro’s men gunning down El Pelón and his associates. Mejía confirmed the death of El Pelón in the news conference.
The incident made international news after the gunmen reportedly were able to spend several hours cleaning up the crime scene and removing the bodies, without any interference from local police.
Michoacán state prosecutor Adrián López Solís said that three local police officers were on duty only blocks from the scene of the crime, but didn’t intervene because “they didn’t have sufficient force.”
By the time investigators arrived at the scene, only a bag full of brains and shell casings remained.
While fighting between CJNG factions is uncommon, the gang has been responsible for other massacres throughout the country with rival cartels. The group has gained a reputation as one of the most feared and violent criminal organizations in Mexico—not a good thing for a state looking to improve its reputation, according to the president.