Mexican News Photographer is Shot Dead in Violence-Plagued City

Ciudad Juarez
The skyline of Ciudad Juarez. | Alejandro Rosales

A Mexican news photographer working in the border city of Ciudad Juarez has been fatally shot.

Ismael Villagómez was found dead in the driver’s seat of a car in Ciudad Juarez, an area described as being dominated by drug cartels.

The newspaper that Villagómez was working for, the Heraldo de Juarez, says that the car he was found dead in was registered to a ride-hailing app. The AP reports that given the low salaries for news photographers in Mexico, it is not uncommon for them to hold down more than one job. The Heraldo de Juarez says that his phone was found at the murder scene.

Prosecutors in the northern border state of Chihuahua are now investigating whether Villagómez was carrying a fare at the time of his death or whether his killing was related to his work as a news photographer.

“Once his work at El Heraldo was over, he worked through the [ride-sharing] platform inDrive,” says prosecutor Carlos Salas. “He would normally work from the afternoon until 02:00, 03:00”. InDrive did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters news agency.

The investigators are looking at whether Villagómez’s role as a news photographer was a factor in his death.

“A journalist is a journalist 24 hours a day, whether or not they were working as something else meanwhile,” Salas adds.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wants authorities to urgently investigate the killing.

Ciudad Juarez has been plagued by violence for almost two decades, gangs often object to photos of their victims or their activities being published.

“We’re concerned, sad, angry,” says Jose Ramon Ortiz, director of the Heraldo de Juarez where Villagomez worked. “We don’t want this to be like what has happened with the deaths of other journalists. We want, whether the motive was journalistic or related to something else, to have clarity.”

Unsafe for Journalists

Villagómez becomes the fifth journalist to be killed in Mexico in 2023, the country is one of the deadliest places in the world to work as a news-gatherer outside of war zones.

In 2022, 15 Mexican journalists were killed; a grim number that was only second to Ukraine.