Anabel Flores Salazar was feeding her 15-day-old baby early Monday morning when eight masked gunmen in black military uniforms stormed into her home in Veracruz, Mexico. They played the part of cops or soldiers on a lawful mission.
“We have a warrant!” they announced in Spanish. “Get down on the floor!”
Flores Salazar was a crime reporter who had suffered a fall from grace. She seems to have been seeking to re-establish herself by undertaking an undeniably perilous assignment while in the last few days of her pregnancy and the first few days of new motherhood.
Maybe think of her as Mommy Bravest.
Eight months ago, right about when she became pregnant with her second child, she is said to have been fired from her job as a reporter at El Buen Tono. Her employer had become suspicious when she began driving a fancier SUV than jibed with her wages. She was rumored to have become friendly with an organized crime figure.
Flores Salazar had started working freelance for El Sol de Orizaba, covering routine traffic accidents and homicides, using the word “femicida” when the victim was female, as was all too often the case.
The start of the New Year saw Flores Salazar approaching the end of her pregnancy and reporting on the Jan. 1 murder a 16-year-old who had been found face down with a severe head wound. Flores Salazar noted that the deceased was of slight build and wore “pants, a blue denim jacket, grey blouse and red shoes.”
“Meanwhile members of the Ministerial Police opened a file to investigate femicide,” Flores Salazar wrote.
On Jan. 11, Flores Salazar got word of another 16-year-old girl. This one had disappeared along with four young men who had been pulled over while returning from a day at the beach. They had then been trundled into a police vehicle.
Flores Salazar began working the story even though she was in her final fortnight of pregnancy, even though she already had a 4-year-old son at home, even though she knew that at least 14 journalists had been murdered in Veracruz in the six years since she entered the business as an intern.
A measure of just how dangerous it was to be a journalist in Veracruz had come in 2015, when a photographer fled the area for what he imagined to be sanctuary in Mexico City. He was murdered there along with four women.
But here was Flores Salazar, on the case in Veracruz. Nobody could doubt the courage and resolve of this extremely pregnant journalist undertaking such an undeniably dangerous story.
Even Flores Salazar must have taken off a couple of days after the Jan. 23 birth of her second son. But the Anabel F. Salazar bylines in El Sol de Orizaba prove that she was back on the job last week, reporting on a fatal car accident, a bus crash, and a shooting.
She is said to have also kept on with the story of the five vanished beachgoers. And that may be what prompted three gray Nissan trucks to roar out of the early-morning darkness up to the house where she was feeding her son. The uniformed gunmen who burst inside were deaf to her aunt’s cries.
“We pleaded with them not to take her,” the aunt, Luz Salazar, would later say. “I told them that she had a newborn baby.”
The men dragged Flores Salazar away from her infant and her 4-year-old son. She was loaded into a vehicle just as the vanished five had been. The trucks sped away.
As had the families of the five, Flores Salazar’s family went to the police and the military in vain.
On Tuesday, her family was notified that the body of woman matching her description had been found dumped by the side of a road. Reporters dutifully noted—just as she would have—that the victim had a blue plastic bag over her head, her hands were tied behind her back, and her pants were pulled down.
The family confirmed that the latest femicide was also the latest murdered journalist. The Veracruz authorities were not immune to the pressure that accompanied the murder of a 15th member of the press since 2010.
As always, the state prosecutor’s office pledged that the incident would be fully investigated.
As sometimes before, it sought in the next breath to besmirch the victim, suggesting she was at least partly to blame.
“All of the reporter’s probable links are being investigated,” the prosecutor’s office said, immediately adding, “Such as that of Aug. 30, 2014…when she was found in the company of Victor Osorio Santacruz, alias El Pantera, who was detained at that moment by elements of the Mexican Army for his probable connections with an organized crime group.”
A check of the records confirm that Victor Osorio Santacruz is indeed known as El Pantera and is indeed connected to organized crime, having been caught in a police uniform with a list of what bribes the Los Zetas cartel was paying to which officials. But he seems to have been arrested in 2011, not 2014, and by the Mexican marines, not the army.
Flores Salazar’s family reportedly confirms that’s she was present in the restaurant where El Pantera was arrested. But the family says that she was there with them to celebrate her birthday, not to dine with a hoodlum.
If Flores did know El Pantera, that does not make her any more suspect than the many journalists who know and sometimes socialize with criminals. And a nice SUV does not make her a crook.
However she came by the vehicle and whatever the relationship she had or did not have with El Pantera, she could not have imagined that it would guarantee her safety as she ventured beyond routine crime and traffic accidents.
On the same day her body was discovered, the authorities announced that the remains of two of the missing five had been recovered on a ranch known for drug stashes, stolen cars and fuel pilfered from the national pipeline. Seven cops and a number of other individuals were in custody, but whoever was behind it all had not been named.
You can bet Mommy Bravest would be on the case.