Revenge has been an ongoing theme in Mexico's drug wars. Drug police, the military, and journalists are the most common victims.
But rarely have criminals directly targeted their families.
Now many fear that is about to change.
On Tuesday Mexican officials announced that the family of a fallen Mexican marine, who died in a two-hour shootout last week that took down top drug cartel boss Arturo Beltran Leyva, has been shot and killed by hitmen believed to be tied to Mr. Leyva's gang.
“This is a new message by organized crime, in which intimidation even reaches the families of those who are fighting them,” says Erubiel Tirado, a security expert at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “This is a very worrisome indicator of their behavior, and a new pattern that we might see.”
Fallen marine Melquisedet Angulo was buried Monday with the highest honors, after participating in a raid that took down Leyva – the most prominent trafficker to be killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent troops to root out organized crime three years ago.
But hours later, hitmen opened fire at his family's home in the state of Tabasco, reportedly killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Calderón vowed not be cowed by the attacks – a message he has repeated in three years since taking office, during which 15,000 people have been killed. "We will not be intimidated by criminals without scruples like those who committed this barbarity," Calderón said Tuesday. "Those who act like this deserve the unanimous repudiation of society, and they must pay for their crime."
He had a similar message this summer, after an alleged top trafficker in the La Familia cartel in the state of Michoacan was arrested. Then hitmen responded by leaving the bodies of 12 federal police dead on a highway in the state.
Leyva, whose gang is active in Tabasco, was considered among the most-wanted traffickers in Mexico and was the highest-level drug lord that Calderón has captured to date. The group has garnered a reputation for going after high-level government officials. During the shoot-out last week, hitmen launched grenades at the special forces carrying out the operation.
But the killing of family is a more chilling advancement even in this context, the kind of violence against innocent people that terrifies the nation. Angulo's mother was killed just hours after attending the funeral for her son, in which she received a flag.
Their murders represent a new “low,” says Mr. Tirado, but they also indicate a worrisome trend ahead. “The fact that they could reach the families of the [military] shows a degree of intelligence on the part of organized crime.”