Three U.S. citizens identified among the dead
ZINAPECUARO, Mexico––Three U.S. citizens died and a fourth was critically wounded at an illegal cockfight on March 27, 2022 in Zinapecuaro, Michoacan state, Mexico, about halfway between Mexico City and Jalisco.
The four U.S. citizens were among the 20 dead and six reported survivors in killings that Mexican authorities told media were apparently undertaken as revenge for the masacre of 17 people at a funeral in nearby San José de Gracia on February 27, 2022.
The gunmen who conducted the San José de Gracia massacre took the bodies of the dead with them. The bodies have yet to be found.
Cockpit owned by Phoenix resident
Among the U.S. dead in the Zinapecuaro attack was Jose Abiel Alvarez Senior, of Phoenix, Arizona, 1,400 miles north.
Despite the distance from Zinapecuaro to Phoenix, Jose Abiel Alvarez Senior was identified by the Michoacán Prosecutor’s Office as owner of El Paraiso, the unlicensed cockfighting arena where the shootings occurred.
The name of the arena, “The Paradise,” meant that the victims went to Paradise before they died.
Son died with father
Killed with Jose Abiel Alvarez Senior was one of his sons, Salvador Alvarez.
Salvador Alvarez identified himself on Facebook as “Organizador de Eventos at Palenque Rancho El Paraíso.”
Falling with the Alvarez father and son was self-identified cockfighter Daniel Stalin Martinez Equihua of Morelia, Mexico, who promoted his cockfighting activities on at least two Facebook accounts and was on Salvador Alvarez’s Facebook “friends” list.
“They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” posted Alvarez son and brother Jose Abiel Alvarez Jr.
“There for the holidays”
The third U.S. citizen killed in the Zinapecuaro cockfight massacre was Melissa Silva, 36, of Watsonville, California, 20 miles north of Salinas, a longtime U.S. cockfighting hotspot.
Critically injured was Melissa Silva’s younger sister, Arleth Silva, 16, of Chicago. Their brother Alex told media that they journeyed to Zinapecuaro “two or three times a year” on vacation to visit relatives.
“They were there for vacation to celebrate the holidays,” said the victims’ brother, Alex Silva. “They were there for a couple of months.”
Watsonville victim left four children
Reported John Garcia of ABC-7 in Chicago, “The two sisters are the oldest and youngest of a family of nine children, who grew up in the western suburbs [of Chicago, specifically Warrenville.] They were in Mexico with their parents, who were considering moving back there.”
Melissa Silva “leaves behind four children ages 20, 17, 12 and 10,” reported Ricardo Tovar for KION-TV of Monterey, California.
Melissa Silva “was found dead by her parents moments after the massacre,” Tovar added.
“They arrived shortly after the bullets stopped and found my older sister was already dead,” brother Alex Silva told Telemundo Chicago. “A meter away was my younger sister on the floor as well, but she was still breathing. They got ambushed by a bunch of guys with high caliber weapons. And they had really nowhere to go. They just got surrounded.”
“What’s going on with my little sister?”
Narrated Tovar, “Alex was also in Mexico at the time his older sister Melissa was killed and his younger sister Arleth was critically wounded in the mass shooting. He was told of his sister’s murder over the phone by their mother.”
Said Alex Silva, “She told me that, ‘Melissa… Melissa’s dead. Melissa’s dead. She’s right in front of me,’ I said ‘What are you talking about, she’s dead? What’s going on with my little sister?”
What was going on with both sisters is that they traveled 2,017 miles south from Watsonville and 2,050 miles south from Chicago, respectively, to attend an illegal cockfight, where by definition there are no innocent bystanders.
Nothing humans do involving animals is more often associated with murder than cockfighting, even where cockfighting is fully legal and openly practiced.
Cockfighting massacres nothing new
On January 23, 2016 for instance, “Two children ages 11 and 16 were among four people killed in Ensenada, Mexico, when gunmen stormed a crowd of several hundred spectators gathered to watch a cockfight,” reported Sandra Dibble for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “An additional 15 people were wounded in the attack,” which occurred at the Póker Palenque cockfighting arena.
The death toll from the Póker Palenque murders was exceeded several times over on November 9, 2015.
Recounted Allen Garcia for Agence France-Presse, “Twelve people were killed, including two minors, and five others were wounded when a gunfight erupted between armed civilians at a cockfight in Cuajinicuilapa, the state prosecutor’s office said.”
In the most recent case, the cockfight was in Michoacan state, scene of 2,732 reported murders in 2021, the third most in Mexico, and was held amid a multi-year gang war.
The others killed at the cockfight were partially identified by Michoacán Prosecutor’s Office as male victims José Andrés M.; Jose H.; Erik Salvador M.; Damian M.; Federico L.; Juan Pablo L.; Jesus Horacio L.; Miguel Angel M.; Alejandro Michel G.; Carlos Alberto M .; Jose Martin A.; John Ignatius G.; and Juan Jesus M.; Jennifer Karina T.; and Martha Elba P., plus a man known so far only as “El Chapo de Guatemala.”
Mexican media reported that the Zinapecuaro killings are believed by police to have been directed in particular against an alleged regional head of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a drug gang, who switched allegiances from his former affiliation with another drug gang called the Familia Michoacana.
Seven hours of cockfighting before people were killed
The El Paraíso palenque, or cockpit, opened at approximately 3:00 p.m. on the day of the killings.
“That day an event open to the public was held in which around 40 cockfights were held without betting and supervised by the National Section of Breeders of Fighting Birds, which was organized for genetic selection purposes,” reported the Reuters news service.
“After the palenque closed its doors to the general public,” more than seven hours later, “armed men entered the place aboard a Sabritas fried food truck, which had been stolen days before,” Reuters said.
“At the same time and in a coordinated manner, a bus, which had been hijacked, was used to maintain a blockade outside the building and thus prevent the victims from escaping from the scene.
“After executing their victims, the assassins abandoned the vehicle in which they arrived and fled the scene in cars stolen from the victims.”
The gang war, erupting toward the end of 2020 and featuring many previous murders, may have begun with a dispute over control of an extortion racket that terrorized eastern Michoacán merchants.
Among the killings were a videotaped beheading in February 2021 and the March 25, 2022 murder of an alleged extortionist who charged poultry sellers in the village of Maravito a fee of five pesos for each kilo of chicken they sold.
Missing Philippine cockfighters still missing
The Zinapecuaro murders came a week after Philippine president Rodrigo Dutero announced that his government would not suspend “e-sabong,” or online betting on cockfights, despite the disappearance of at least 34 cockfighters between April 2021 and January 2022.
“All are alleged to have been involved in bout-fixing,” reported Philip Conneller for the web site Casino.org, “whereby the performance of one bird is sabotaged for the benefit of a gambling ring. All are believed to have visited cockpits owned by e-sabong operator Lucky 8 Star Quest before their disappearance.”