The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A 17-year-old YouTube star insulted a notorious drug lord. The teen was found with at least 15 bullet wounds.

Juan Luis Lagunas Rosales was born in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, a center for cartels and the land of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Lagunas grew up never knowing his father. His mother left him with his grandmother as a child.

Lagunas left his hometown at the age of 15 without finishing high school, moving to the nearby municipality of Culiacán and washing cars to make a living, he said in an interview in July. It was in this adopted town that he took on the nickname that would later become known across cyberspace: “El Pirata de Culiacán,” or “The Pirate of Culiacán.”

He started landing invitations to more and more parties, and soon fell into a life of excessive drinking. He would post videos on social media showing him chugging beer and bottles of whiskey, sometimes getting so drunk he would pass out. The videos started going viral. In the years that followed, the bingeing teenager became a perverse YouTube sensation. At the age of 17, he racked up more than a million followers on Facebook and more than 300,000 on Instagram. His social media fame started earning him spots in music videos and at promotional events.

His baby face, matched with his belligerent, clownish behavior, entertained the masses. Yet it was easy to forget that he was still a boy. He drew a beard on his chin to look older. He tattooed his arms — a pirate on one, a tiger on the other. He posted pictures on Instagram with large guns, half-naked women and luxury cars.

The drinking age in Mexico is 18, but “El Pirata de Culiacán” drank as if he had no limits. Like many teenage boys, he lived as if he was invincible, saying whatever he wanted about whomever he wanted. It was all a big game, a big party.

But in Sinaloa, one of Mexico’s most violent states, no one is invincible — especially when you mess with the wrong people.

In one recent video posted online, a seemingly intoxicated Lagunas was recorded taking a stab at Nemesio Ocegera Cervantes, also known as “El Mencho.” Cervantes happens to be one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug lords, according to U.S. government officials, the leader of the New Generation Cartel of Jalisco.

“El Mencho a mí me pela la verga” Lagunas said, according to El Pais. The phrase is an insult that loosely means, “suck my c‑‑‑.”

And on Monday night, while he and his friends partied at a bar in Jalisco, a group of armed individuals burst in and fired at Lagunas, the attorney general of Jalisco, Raúl Sánchez Jiménez, told Mexican media outlets. The teenager died, sustaining between 15 and 18 bullet wounds. Authorities managed to identify Lagunas by his tattoos.

Prosecutors have not determined the identities or motives of those responsible. But they confirmed to news outlets that they are investigating a possible link to the recent videotaped insult toward El Mencho.

El Mencho is one of the last people anyone would want to offend.

His cartel, the New Generation, is relatively new, coalescing less than a decade ago. It stemmed from the remnants of another group, the Milenio cartel, and makes money by selling guns, stealing gasoline, extortion and kidnapping, The Washington Post’s Josh Partlow wrote in 2015. It is one of the fastest-rising drug cartels in Mexico, operating in several Mexican states and forging underworld ties around the globe.

The group has been linked to thousands of murders, according to a Rolling Stone profile. Many of them have been traced specifically to their leader, “El Mencho,” who is reportedly a former police officer.

‘Cowardly killers’ walked into an elementary school Christmas party and fatally shot a Mexican journalist

Lagunas’s death comes during a year that is on track to become the bloodiest on record in Mexico. In the first 10 months of 2017, 20,878 murders were counted nationwide, an average of 69 murders a day, Reuters reported.

It’s a dangerous time and place for anyone, but especially for a teenage boy living recklessly in search of fame.

“He opted to make a career as a broken toy of cyberspace, a path he carved out drink by drink and that left him with enemies of flesh and blood,” Univision reporter Fernando Mexía wrote in an article titled “The poisoned fame of ‘El Pirata.’ ”

The YouTube star managed to “transcend borders,” even landing in Rolling Stone — not for his fame, but for his death. His killing “gave him the popularity he never imagined,” Mexía wrote.

As the teenager’s celebrity rose, activists criticized the musicians, bands and promoters who featured him drinking in music videos. The attention only encouraged his dangerous behavior and promoted the alcoholism of a minor, critics told Univision.

“There are a lot of people who criticize him, but the truth is . . . that’s why ‘El Pirata’ got started,” said one artist, Luis Adame, of Último Escuadrón. “Everyone in their own way tries to find a way to get ahead.”

In recent interviews, Lagunas seemed to come to terms with his vices. He hoped to pursue a singing career, and reportedly had signed a contract with a record label.

Speaking to Pepe Garza, a radio host and producer, in July, Lagunas said he knew he needed to rein in the drinking.

“You drink a lot all at once, and the body isn’t meant for that,” Garza said to him.

“People ask me, ‘How do you do it? How do you handle drinking so much?” the teenager responded. “I just laugh, I say ‘I don’t know how I do it.’”

But, he said, “they’re right. . . . Sometimes I go too far.”

The host wished him the best with his career, encouraging him to get a grip on the partying “so that he can last many years.”

After hearing the news of his death, fellow Instagram celebrity and promoter Beto Sierra remembered Lagunas as a cheerful, positive, fun friend.

Sierra recalled encouraging him to calm down and control the drinking. “He told me that he wanted to change, but on the weekend, there was no lack of bad influences,” Sierra wrote on Instagram.

“You were living a fast life . . . you never listened, and I don’t judge you,” he said. “Those who knew you know you were a good person.”

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