Narco Hitmen on Jet Skis Sprayed a Cancun Beach With Bullets, Killing Two People

Violence at the beach resort, a popular landing spot for cocaine coming from South America, is common and worsened by vacationing tourists, who pump the local demand for marijuana and cocaine, creating competition.
June 14, 2021, 6:04pm
The sun rises over the Caribbean as tourists watch from the beach during New Year's Day on January 1, 2021 in Cancún, Mexico. But drug-related violence here is common.
The sun rises over the Caribbean as tourists watch from the beach during New Year's Day on January 1, 2021 in Cancún, Mexico. Drug vPhoto by Medios y Media/Getty Images

MEXICO CITY - An American woman has been hospitalized in Cancun following a beachside shooting that left two people dead. Identified only as Kanya N, the Kentucky resident was hit by a stray bullet in the shoulder as she relaxed underneath a palm-roofed hut while on vacation over the weekend.

According to witnesses, a pair of assassins attacked the beach using a jet ski, firing 10 to 15 shots before fleeing across the turquoise waters that attract millions of tourists from around the world each year.

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The victims, who died at the scene, were reportedly street vendors who sold craft goods to tourists. But many of those vendors double as small-scale drug dealers – feeding demand from tourists for marijuana and cocaine. The shooting, which occurred in the afternoon of June 11, is believed to be the result of a territorial dispute between rival gangs.

The next day, around 150 police officers undertook a clean-up operation on the beach, known as Playa Tortugas, clearing it of unlicensed structures such as vendor huts in an apparent attempt to drive away drug dealers. Later that evening, shots were fired at the local office of the unit of the state prosecutor’s office that is dedicated to combating small-scale drug trafficking. Whether or not the events are related is unclear.

The department of Quintana Roo, where top tourist destinations Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cozumel are located, is generally considered one of the safest in Mexico. But it’s also known as a landing spot for drugs coming from South America, as well as a hub of drug consumption due to the large presence of tourists.

As a result, the drug-fueled violence that has plagued Mexico occasionally spills out onto the picturesque beaches of the country’s most popular coastal cities. There were 209 homicides in Quintana Roo through the first four months of 2021, compared with 266 during the same period last year. The majority of the killings occur outside the resort areas frequented by tourists.

The use of jet skis by assassins is uncommon, but not without precedent. Across the country in Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most-violent cities, gunmen have made a number of attacks from the sea, including killing a street vendor and others in what authorities believe was also related to small-scale drug dealing. 

In 2018, a street vendor in Cancún was targeted by assailants on a jet ski, but no one was hurt.

Cancun’s tourism industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and locals fear the shooting could lead others to have second thoughts about visiting.

There are conflicting reports about the condition of Kanya, who was reportedly shot in the shoulder. Attempts by VICE World News to clarify her status with the hospital where she is being cared for were unsuccessful.