The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

American traveler missing in Mexico was killed by Sinaloa cartel, officials say

American teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrew in July 2018. (Patrick Braxton-Andrew/(Courtesy of the Braxton-Andrew family))
Placeholder while article actions load

The family of a North Carolina teacher missing in a remote part of Mexico received the news Thursday that Patrick Braxton-Andrew was killed by drug cartel members in late October.

Since he was last seen Oct. 28 in Urique, a tiny village in the country’s Chihuahua state, Braxton-Andrew’s family has been in Mexico working with local and U.S. authorities to locate the 34-year-old Spanish teacher, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Two days later, on a Facebook page devoted to the search, Braxton-Andrew’s family stated they had been informed by Mexican authorities that Patrick was killed “on October 28th at the hands of a criminal organization that operates in the area where he was traveling,” the Thursday afternoon post stated. “The search continues to recover his body so we can bring him back home.”

Patrick Braxton-Andrew, a North Carolina teacher, has been missing from one of Mexico’s national parks since Oct. 30. (Video: WSOC-TV)

Braxton-Andrew’s sister-in-law confirmed his death in an email to The Post.

Javier Corral, the governor of Chihuahua, wrote on his official Facebook page that investigators believe Braxton-Andrew was killed by a narco-trafficker operating in the region named José Noriel Portilo Gil, also known as “El Chueco.”

“Through the advances in the investigation, I can say that it was a cowardly and brutal assassination of a person who was totally innocent, a clean man whose misfortune was to cross paths with this criminal,” Corral wrote.

According to Mexico media reports, Portilo Gil is associated with the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. Proceso reported that “El Chueco” — a name that translates to “twisty,” “crooked” or “bowlegged” — is a young man allegedly running the cartel’s business in the region surrounding Urique. In April 2017, Portilo Gil was believed to have been killed in an attack. But that September, Portilo Gil resurfaced when he and his associates allegedly led an attack on the State Security Commission in Urique.

A fluent Spanish speaker who loved the language and had traveled widely in Central America and Mexico, Braxton-Andrew was originally scheduled to meet his brother in Mexico City on Oct. 30 after spending a few days hiking the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua. When he failed to show, his family began retracing his steps, eventually determining that he was last seen leaving his hotel in Urique on Oct. 28.

Mexican officials have not provided further details about how the American crossed paths with drug traffickers or why Braxton-Andrew was killed.

“Patrick died doing what he loved — traveling and meeting people. Join us in celebrating his life as he would want us to do,” his family wrote on Facebook. “We will always remember Patrick and his joy for life. We love you PBA.”

In his own statement on the shooting, Corral promised to bring the family solace.

“I have already experienced several hard and sad moments in my role as governor, and the one that I lived yesterday with Gary Braxton, the father of Patrick, informing him of the tragic event, has broken my heart,” the official wrote.

“I also informed him and his beautiful family that not only are we going to find Patrick’s body, but we are going to do him justice and deliver exemplary punishment to this delinquent and his gang, who have paradoxically, by acting with such cowardice, put an end to their influence and the control of that area under the Sinaloa cartel.”

Drea Cornejo contributed to this report.

More from Morning Mix:

U.K. school bans pricey Canada Goose jackets in effort at ‘poverty-proofing’

‘I’m not going back’: Calif. deputies kill wanted felon amid Camp Fire cleanup

A rogue turkey that can’t be captured has become the unofficial ‘mayor’ of Ashwaubenon, Wis.