Police Say TV Star Killed Himself Driving. His Family Say Cops Are to Blame.

Mexican actor Octavio Ocaña rose to fame as a child, playing Benito Ríos in the popular TV comedy “Vecinos” in the mid-2000s.
Octavio Ocaña child star
Photo: L. Youtube Amazing Changes, R. Instagram @octavioocaa.

MEXICO CITY — Since former child star Octavio Ocaña died from a bullet wound following a car chase with police, many Mexicans have been consumed with the question of who fired the fatal shot.

Police said the 22-year-old TV actor accidentally shot himself in the head with his own gun, but the actor’s family say they have proof that Ocaña was murdered by the cops, including a video that shows him alive as police surround the car in the incident last week.

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Ocaña held a special place in Mexican pop culture after starring as the instantly recognizable Benito Ríos in the popular TV comedy Vecinos as a child in the mid-2000s. After ending in 2008, the series recently picked up again in 2017 with Ocaña playing an adult version of the red-haired character. Ocaña died just weeks before he was set to begin filming the 12th season of the show.

The controversy reached President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who said on Wednesday that he has asked federal authorities to revise the case. 

Ocaña was driving his Jeep, accompanied by two friends, on the afternoon of Oct. 29 when the cops tried to pull him over, according to a police statement. Ocaña sped off and led police on a car chase through the working-class outskirts of Mexico City before crashing the vehicle into a cement barrier. 

When police arrived at the scene of the accident, Ocaña had accidentally shot himself in the head with his own gun, according to the official statement from the prosecutor’s office in the State of Mexico, which surrounds the capital.

Authorities alleged that Ocaña’s two companions said the three men were driving around the municipality of Cuautitlán Izcalli just north of Mexico City while drinking alcohol when police tried to stop them. As Ocaña sped away, he had the wheel in his left hand and a .380 pistol in his right.

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“During his escape the driver lost control,” the Mexico State Attorney General's office said. “At this time and as a result of the dynamics of the accident, the driver presumably activated the firearm that he carried in his right hand.”

The statement alleged that the bullet entered the right side of Ocaña’s head and exited from the left at an upward angle. “From the trajectory of the bullet, it is clear that it was fired from inside the vehicle and by the person who was carrying it.” The police also claimed to have found a .380 bullet shell in the car that matched the gun. Ocaña died on his way to the hospital.

But Octavio Pérez, the actor's father, challenged the police findings and has appeared on radio and television programs to contradict their version. 

“I'm going to avenge my son, I'm going to get him justice,” Pérez said on the breakfast talk show Sale el Sol.

His son did have a gun for protection because he was a celebrity, Pérez said in the interviews, but the bullet that killed him did not match the weapon. He said it was a 9mm bullet rather than a .380. Pérez also said there were at least four other bullet holes in the back of the Jeep that show the police were firing at the vehicle. 

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In addition, Ocaña’s two friends were tortured by police to give statements that backed up the official version, Pérez said. They have not come forward publicly.

After Ocaña's death, video of the immediate aftermath that was reportedly filmed by the police made its way online. The video shows numerous cops circling the crashed car as the two passengers are handcuffed on the concrete. 

The video has led to allegations that police officers may have fabricated the scene, especially after one bit shows an officer approaching Ocaña from the passenger side while the actor is clearly alive and visibly touches his face. It's unclear what the officer did while inside the car at that moment. Later, Ocaña's sister posted screenshots of the video that she alleged showed a woman police officer stealing what appears to be Ocaña's gold bracelet at the crime scene.

Ocaña's body was returned to his home state of Tabasco and buried during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities, amid calls for justice from family, friends, and fans. 

Ocaña's iconic portrayal of a young Benito Ríos on Vecinos—“Neighbors” in English—made him, if not a household name, a household face.

In the show, Ocaña portrayed the son of a failed writer who constantly tries to force the child to become an actor. In many of the episodes, Ocaña dresses up as kid versions of famous Mexican characters like Cantinflas and El Chapulin Colorado, as well as international characters like Cleopatra and Tarzan. Images of the freckled child have recently gained a second life in popular memes

One scene in particular when the small boy dresses up as a vagabond and said, "Sure, the rich: always humiliating the poor," has become one of the most popular memes in Mexico, often paired with ironic phrases pointing out the classist injustices and the wealth discrepancy in the country.

After his death, one widely shared image went viral showing Homer Simpson sitting on his car and staring up at the night sky, where an image of Ocaña's vagabond face shines amid the stars.