MEXICO CITY - Camelia Barraza saw the picture on her daughter’s phone and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. The man in the photo looked older, but he had the same black straight hair, the same round face, a cataract in the right eye and a tattoo of a cross on his left forearm.
According to the news, he had allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend in Chile in December with the same modus operandi with which Itzel Monroy Barraza, Barraza’s 17-year-old daughter, was murdered in the state of Aguascalientes, Mexico, on April 9, 2009.
Barraza was certain. It was Carlos Humberto Méndez González, the man wanted by local authorities as the only suspect in Itzel’s murder. But the news and police in Chile said his name was Igor Yaroslav González González, a Mexican citizen living in Santiago, and the only suspect in the killing of María Isabel Pavez Zamora the week before Christmas last year.
Barraza found Pavez’s sister Brenda on Facebook and sent her a message. Brenda soon replied and both families spent hours sharing data and information. They came to the same conclusion: Igor was Carlos Humberto. And they believed that he had killed both women in different countries.
“I was afraid this would happen,” Barraza said. She also said she has been telling the local Attorney General’s Office the same thing for the last 11 years. They didn’t catch her daughter's alleged killer and now she believed he had struck again.
Pavez Zamora, a 22 year old obstetrics student, was reported missing on December 21, four days after she left her home in Santiago, Chile. The next day, her body was found in the closet of her ex-boyfriend’s room in another part of the city.
There was no trace of the ex-boyfriend Igor Yaroslav González González, and he was immediately identified by police as the prime suspect. Women and feminist groups flooded social media with news on the arrest warrant against González, which is how Barraza came to see the image of her own daughter’s suspected killer in Mexico.
Families across Latin America quickly mobilized to track him down. They made comparative images viral, connecting up the dots between the two murders in Chile and Mexico and spreading the newest pictures of “Igor” through social media, identifying him as Carlos Humberto Méndez González and Itzel’s suspected killer in Mexico.
Police assured the Pavez family that Interpol had issued a search warrant for Carlos in 2015, six years after allegedly killing Itzel in Mexico and three years after a local judge in Aguascalientes granted a search and location warrant. But neither Monroy’s family nor any of the activists in Mexico have seen the Interpol alert, and it didn’t show up on the organization’s website or on social media.
Chile’s investigative police found and arrested Carlos / Igor on January 6 in a hotel in the city of Valpariaso. Among his belongings, they found Pavez’s phone and money transfer receipts from Mexico, made by his mother.
He was formally charged with femicide and using fake documents, and arrested.
Two weeks of pressure and social media posts achieved what Mexican —and international— authorities hadn’t done in 11 years. Yet activists consider that normal. It is they - not the authorities - who are quick to respond to gender-based violence in Mexico, according to a survey on the response to such crimes there since the pandemic began. They also keep a record of the actions and decisions that hinder the care and prevention of violence against women before and during the pandemic.
The consequences are plain to see: Mexico went from 10 to 13 women murdered a day since the COVID-19 lockdown began just under a year ago.
“They don’t care, they don’t want to [investigate], they are not aware. And I dare to say that the absence of awareness implies they don’t know how to do it. Because they could read manuals, they could read a lot of stuff,” said Mariana Ávila, from an observatory dedicated to social and gender-based violence in Aguascalientes.
There were 3,056 femicides - violent deaths of women committed for gender reasons - and 2,646 other murders of women not recognized as femicides in Mexico between 2012 and 2018, according to an investigation published last year. From a sample of acquittals, the report - published by an anti-corruption non-profit - showed the perpetrators were let off, not because there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, but because of mistakes and a lack of due process by the authorities.
In Mexico, the killing of Pavez in Chile is seen by those who understand the case as something that shouldn't have happened. It shone a light on the murder of Itzel years earlier, and exposed serious deficiencies in the investigation of her murder by the Aguascalientes’ Attorney General Office.
The link between the two murders showed the lack of effective cooperation between local, national and international justice institutions in the region. A woman is killed every two hours in Latin America, according a recent report.
Barraza and her family feel now at peace. They trust Chile’s justice system will convict Carlos / Igor for Pavez’s death. If it happens, they’ll feel Itzel got justice, too.
And although Aguascalientes’ Attorney General can ask for extradition once Carlos / Igor’s trial in Chile is done, Itzel’s family would prefer him to stay in Santiago.
“(If he stays there) I know he won’t get out of prison,” said Barraza.
“There will always be corruption here.”