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A photo of Ovidio Guzmán when he was captured and released by the Mexican government in 2019. (L). The same man after being arrested and transported to Mexico City on Jan. 5, 2023 (R). (Photos: Mexican government)

Inside El Chapo’s Son’s House After a Deadly Gunfight

An early morning raid by the Mexican military led to the capture of El Chapo’s son Ovidio Guzmán before he could make it to his escape tunnel.

JESÚS MARÍA, Mexico—The early morning visitors to Ovidio Guzmán’s mansion didn’t knock. They opened fire, riddling the massive wood double-doors with hundreds of bullet holes, leaving one side hanging precariously by one hinge.

Inside, the living room was ransacked, high-end, minimalist furniture made of mahogany and marble strewn about, including two white couches turned upside down and darkened with blood. A huge panoramic window looking out on the verdant Sinaloan mountains is now just a ragged hole in the wall and a heap of shattered glass. The walls are littered with bullet holes, large-caliber shell casings cover the floor. There’s a baby bottle on the ground, another in the hallway towards the kitchen, and a third in Guzmán’s bedroom.

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On a glass-topped table in the hall, someone had lined up a dozen bullet shells and five used gas grenades alongside five green ceramic Christmas trees.  

In the early hours of Jan. 5, an intimate family party—including his wife, mother, and three daughters aged 3, 6, and 12, according to sources—turned into a battleground. The Mexican military dispatched airplanes, helicopters, and hundreds of soldiers to arrest Guzmán, the 32-year-old son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, and the youngest of four “Chapitos,” who are believed to have taken control of the Sinaloa Cartel since their father was extradited to the U.S. in 2017. The youngest “Chapito” had a $5 million bounty on his head, the same as his two half-brothers, Iván Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, who remain at large. The U.S government believes that he, along with his siblings, is one of the main overseers of fentanyl production and trafficking within the Sinaloa Cartel.

Guzmán’s sons  share control of the cartel with other factions, one headed by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, one of the original founders of the organization, another by Aureliano Guzmán, aka El Guano, El Chapo’s brother. 

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The Mexican military say they snatched Guzmán in the first 10 minutes of the raid, one of the most significant anti-cartel operations for the Mexican government in recent years. But the raid laid waste to the town of Jesús María, as sicarios and Mexican forces battled for more than 10 hours after, leaving dozens dead.  

Guzmán’s opulent home is perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Jesús María, about 40 minutes outside Culiacan, Sinaloa’s capital and the cradle of the eponymous cartel. The highway into the town from Culiacán is the only way in and out. Its vantage point on a hill allowed Guzmán to spot the approach of rival cartels or law enforcement, and he generally had over a hundred lookouts on the job and several checkpoints along the way. His sicarios would keep watch 24/7 outside the wooden gates, normally sitting atop a white armored Volkswagen Tiguan or a black Chevrolet Suburban with a machine gun mounted on the roof. 

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A police officer walks outside the mansion where Ovidio Guzman, aka "El Raton" (The Mouse), son of jailed drug trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was arrested on January 5, in the Jesus Maria area in Culiacan, Sinaloa State, Mexico, on January 7, 2023. (Photo by JUAN CARLOS CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)

But on the night of the raid, something was off. Guzmán’s men didn’t see it coming. A few minutes before 4 a.m. the Mexican military landed a helicopter in his backyard as a convoy of soldiers arrived at the front door as Guzmán and his family were sleeping off a family party, local residents told VICE World News. 

The plan worked. Some dozen soldiers from another task force entered Guzmán’s home and managed to grab him in less than 10 minutes, according to a source inside the Mexican military speaking anonymously with VICE News.

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Like his famous father, Guzmán had an escape tunnel leading from his backyard inner parking lot to outside the compound, but he didn’t have time to use it. The entrance to the tunnel was disguised as part of the cement floor, but was made visible after the raid because the entrance had been pulled back, revealing a chute he might have used to escape.

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uzmán had an escape tunnel leading from his front porch inner parking lot to outside the compound. (Photo: Luis Chaparro/VICE World News)

The cars Guzmán and his wife kept nearby—a white armored GLE Mercedes Benz and a black armored G-Wagon—were shot up with high-caliber rounds. The four main rooms of the house had features such as a large circled bathtub, a walk-in closet the size of a regular bedroom, a state-of-the-art kitchen and a large backyard where a life-size nativity scene stood quiet under a palm-lined roof. 

The room in which Guzmán slept, which has black-out blinds, now smells of gunpowder and stale blood. A glass of water and another bottle half full of baby formula stood on the bedside table. A bloodstain the size of a football marked the white bedsheets. 

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Ovidio Guzmán’s front yard shows the aftermath of the operation to capture him. Sources said he was sleeping along with his wife and his three daughters. (Photo: José Betanzos/VICE World News)

More than three years have passed since the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador first tried to capture Guzmán in Culiacán in an operation known locally as “Black Thursday” or the “Culiacanazo.” Government forces were outgunned by thousands of cartel henchmen after they nabbed the young drug-trafficker in October 2019. That time, war erupted, and the cartel won—the government felt forced to release Guzmán to avoid a bloodbath. 

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Ovidio shot to fame after that arrest attempt, with photos of the defiant young narco going viral. But he lived in fear, constantly moving between several houses he owned in Culiacán, Jesús María and other nearby towns, sources inside the Mexican army told VICE World News. He had decided to stay away from his family during the holidays for their safety, but a couple of days before New Years Eve, he appeared to have had a change of heart and asked a dozen of his men to secure his house in Jesús María so he could bring in his family and have a late holiday reunion. 

Neighbors said Guzmán arrived alone in December, and after a few weeks brought his three daughters and wife, as well as his mother, El Chapo’s second wife, Griselda López Pérez, 63. They hired a cook, a mariachi band and waiters to serve at the night’s gathering, and sat around enjoying drinks and food as the kids opened their Christmas gifts, according to a neighbor who asked not to be named.

“When the government arrived, they were sleeping, it was four in the morning,” said the neighbor. 

The operation was six months in the planning by three different groups of special forces from the Mexican army, according to the government. But once it had him in its grasp again, the Mexican government wasn’t taking any chances. The young Guzmán was rushed out of Sinaloa to Mexico City as soon as he was captured. His men retaliated, and Culiacan and the surrounding area burned as they set buses on fire, blocked streets and the highway, and shot at a military aircraft at the local airport. 

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A bullet left inside a bullet hole in the gates outside Ovidio Guzmán’s house in Jesús María, Sinaloa. (Photo: José Betanzos/VICE World News)

Nineteen suspected gang members and 10 military personnel were killed during the attack, according to Mexico’s Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval. Another 21 people, believed to be Guzmán’s foot-soldiers, were arrested, according to military authorities. But local residents interviewed by VICE World News say that the real death toll was much higher.

One week after the raid, the road to Jesús María was still littered with fresh signs of the pitched battle that had raged there. A burned out bus was left on the side of the highway, tires melted, windows blown out. A burnt car sat in the middle of the road. Further into the hills, a destroyed Mexican army armored vehicle sat blocking the right side of the road. “This is where the army’s (armored vehicle) was set on fire,” a local photographer riding with us said. 

At the last turn to get to Jesús María the Mexican military had set up a checkpoint, looking for armed people and writing down the plates of every car coming in and out. Some 20 soldiers with their faces covered by camo balaclavas checked the cars, others were on top of their humvees, rifles in hand.

The stone arch welcoming visitors to Jesús María marked the beginning of cartel-held country and was flanked either side by cartel punteros (lookouts), there to raise the alarm when unknown vehicles come in. After we passed, a lookout on a motorcycle fell in behind and followed us all the way to Guzmán’s house.

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A Mexican government armored vehicle destroyed by Ovidio Guzmán’s sicarios on the highway to Jesús María in Sinaloa where Guzmán was captured on January 5th. (Photo: Jesús Betanzos/VICE World News)

As we got out of the car we were approached by Griselda López Pérez, Ovidio’s mother, and two of her attorneys. She was there the night the house was raided, and probably saw her son—maybe for the last time—as he was dragged off into custody. Ovidio’s mother seemed unshaken but was in a defensive mood. She was wearing large sunglasses and after noticing our cameras, she put her facemask on. López Pérez was first flagged by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 2012 “for her role in the operations of (Joaquín) Guzmán Loera’s drug trafficking organization.” In 2015, she was arrested in Culiacán by the Mexican government but set free on the same day, after a federal judge decided that the evidence found was not enough to sustain her detention.

López Perez and her attorneys were taking photos of her son’s damaged house. One of them, who wouldn’t share his name, said that they were “gathering evidence of the government’s abuse” in order to sue the Mexican authorities. 

A walk around its perimeter revealed a number of unexploded grenades lying on the ground. One was under a palm tree near in the front yard, others lay on the ground in front of other houses. Locals said they’ve left the grenades alone in the hope that the Mexican army will come back and remove them. 

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Guzmán was popular with locals in Jesús María. Some described him as a hero, others almost as a grandson. Most of the residents said that for years they have received financial support from him, while the Mexican government had abandoned them. 

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A pickup truck belonging to Guzmán’s men was destroyed by the Mexican army at the entrance of the town of Jesús María in Sinaloa during the operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán. (Photo: José Betanzos of VICE World News)

Local residents said the official version is covering up many more casualties, as well as the disappearance of over a hundred people, mostly young boys. 

“There are currently more than 140 people missing in Jesús María, mostly kids and teenagers, that the government is not acknowledging,” a local resident who asked their name be withheld for fear of retaliation from the government, said. 

“We need to recover those bodies. Some people are saying that the government took them in a helicopter to hide them from us,” they said. 

One resident accused the Mexican army of wounding their 13-year-old son. 

“The army shot at everything that moved in the town. My kid went out to buy food when we thought the gunfight was over and he got shot from the air and was hit in his liver, a lung. He is fighting for his life now,” the resident said. 

“I screamed at them to stop shooting, that he was my son, that he was a kid, but they kept shooting non-stop.” 

A couple of days after the government stormed Jesús María, residents held a protest in front of the local government offices demanding the military to leave the town. Over a hundred residents reported thefts in their homes and accused the Mexican soldiers of looting, according to news reports

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Authorities seem to acknowledge they don’t know how many were killed or wounded. Sinaloa’s state chief of police promised during a press conference on Jan 9, that state police would find the real number by surveying Jesús María and surrounding towns. But the true death toll from that day may never be known.

The humble houses surrounding the opulent residence of the young Guzmán have roofs made of corrugated metal sheets, and walls of wood or cheap concrete. Very few have more than two small rooms and their floors are made of dirt. Inside one of these houses, the roof made of large pieces of wood was perforated by bullet holes, allegedly fired from a Mexican army helicopter. 

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María del Refugio sits outside her house in the small town of Jesús María in Sinaloa, showing the aftermath of the violent fight between Ovidio Guzmán’s sicarios and the Mexican government. (Photo: José Betanzos/VICE World News)

Alfredo, 53, a local resident, said that the bullets from that day destroyed his only car, which he used to take his sick wife to Culiacán for medical help every week. He asked why the battle raged on even after Ovidio had been arrested.

“Our question is, if they had already taken the kid [Ovidio], why keep shooting even after 10 hours?” he said.

“Honestly, I really wish he will be freed. He helped us a lot with medical bills, with money, with whatever we needed. And now he is gone and we don’t want the soldiers here. They only brought destruction and sadness to this town,” Alfredo said. 

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Ovidio Guzmán’s men used the image of a mouse in reference to Guzmán’s nickname ‘El Ratón’. (Photo: José Betanzos/VICE World News)

Many residents said Ovidio’s arrest was useless and unjustified. In the end, locals say, Ovidio’s only sin was to have a notorious last name and blood ties to a man described as the biggest trafficker in the world. 

Mexico’s Defense Minister, Luis Cresencio Sandoval said that the operation was necessary to neutralize the violence suffered by local residents and “acted according to the Mexican law, after the real threat against the lives of the Mexican soldiers.”

The raid itself seems contrary to the stated policy of President López Obrador, who famously touted a “hugs not bullets” strategy toward the cartels during his campaign for president.  But after all the bullets, he’s taking no chances with Ovidio Guzmán who is being held by Mexican authorities at the Altiplano maximum security prison in the State of Mexico, the same prison where his father was locked up for seven years before making his second great escape in 2015. 

Guzmán's immediate future is unclear. It’s possible he could first serve time for charges against him in Mexico before he could face extradition to the U.S., according to Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard. His lawyers requested an appeal against his immediate extradition, and on Jan. 13 a federal judge denied another appeal to “definitively stop his extradition,” alleging irregularities in his paperwork. Sources said that Guzmán’s extradition may never even come

Back home, local residents of Jesús María are hopeful he will be set free and return to their town. 

“I don’t know why the gringos want him so much,” Alfredo said. “We want him here, he is loved by everyone here in town…everyone.” 

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Wreckage from the cartel battle after the capture of Ovidio Guzmán is evident all over Culiacán. (Photo: José Betanzos/VICE World News)