Case of mother burned to death in Jalisco takes new twist

Mexico was outraged when a woman who had reported threats from her neighbors because of her autistic son’s loudness was set afire with alcohol and suffered fatal burns this month.

But on Tuesday, prosecutors in the western state of Jalisco suggested the woman had bought medicinal alcohol and a lighter, then set herself alight in a park.

The case of Luz Raquel Padilla comes after a string of brutal killings of women in Mexico that haven’t been solved by prosecutors.

Activists had charged that police failed to act on a restraining and protection order obtained by Padilla after the warning “I’m going to burn you alive” was scrawled outside her apartment. Neighbors were reportedly angry over the loud noises her son made.

After her death, police detained a neighbor apparently named in the protection order, but authorities said there was no evidence he was anywhere near where Padilla was burned.

On Tuesday, Luis Mendez Ruiz, head prosecutor in Jalisco, said video footage from security cameras showed Padilla had bought two bottles containing about a quart (liter) of alcohol and a lighter at shops near the park where she was found badly burned July 16. She died later at a hospital.

“The intention isn’t ever to re-victimize or criminalize anybody,” said Mendez Ruiz. “The person who has been detained has rights as well.”

On May 6, Padilla had requested a restraining order against a neighbor she characterized as likely being behind the threats. A judge granted the order, and the fact she died while under supposed protection fueled anger over her death. Activists said authorities hadn’t done enough.

“This feminicide could have been prevented if the authorities had taken stronger measures against the seriousness of the threats,” Maria de la Luz Estrada of the activist group National Feminicide Observatory, said after Padilla’s death. “They minimized it.”

But the prosecutor suggested Tuesday that the case was not straightforward, saying Padilla had had a long-running conflict with neighbors.

Mendez Ruiz said the mother of the detained man provided police with her own security footage showing Padilla apparently setting paper on fire outside her own door. Another video clip shows Padilla changing the angle of the neighbor’s camera to hide the stairway where the threat was scrawled, he said.

Mendez Ruiz said the mother of the detained man has now reported receiving threats.

On Sunday, another woman in the southern state of Morelos died after a relative doused her with gasoline and set her afire July 1, local prosecutors reported. They attributed the killing to a family dispute.

The cases came as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed progress in bringing down Mexico’s stubbornly high homicide rate.

Figures from the National Statistics Institute showed there were 35,625 homicides in 2021, down slightly from 36,773 in 2020. That translates to about 28 killings per 100,000 people last year, compated to 29 per 100,000 in 2020.

The homicide rate for men declined to 50 per 100,000 people from 52 per 100,000. But the rate for women remained unchanged, at about 6 per 100,000.

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