In grief and anger, hundreds of people bid farewell Thursday to a 16-year-old Mexican-American boy shot dead by local police in this town in southern Mexico.
Shouts and signs demanded “justice” and white balloons accompanied the casket of Alexander Martínez Gómez, who had spent years of his short life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and was said to be passionate about developing as a soccer player.
Authorities say a police officer shot him in the head with a shotgun Tuesday night in an incident still under investigation.
Oaxaca state prosecutor Ruben Vasconcelos said Thursday that the attack on the teen was “frontal.”
“There was a shot directly at nine youths that were riding on motorcycles and since (Alexander) was at the front of the group of people with the frontal shot he died immediately,” Vasconcelos said.
Another teen was wounded and still hospitalized.
The town government of Acatlan de Perez Figueroa said in a statement that a police officer was involved in the shooting, but that it hadn’t been “in bad faith.” The officer was in custody.
Reached by phone Thursday, a local police officer who would identify himself only as the “commander” said that the teens on motorcycles failed to stop at a checkpoint.
But Vasconcelos, the prosecutor, cast doubt on the police version.
“There’s been talk of a lot of motives,” he said. “The police talk about it being an accident … but we don’t believe that.” He said he expected the officer in custody to be taken before a judge Friday on murder charges.
Vasconcelos said investigators were also looking into whether police tampered with the crime scene.
Some other officers in the department were already under investigation over allegations of excessive use of force and even extrajudicial killings related to a shootout in mid-May in which six alleged criminals died. After that incident, more state and federal forces were sent to secure the area.
In comments to Imagen Television, the dead teen’s mother, Virginia Gómez, demanded justice in his death.
“I want my son and here he is, dead, with a shot to the head,” Gómez said, standing over her son’s body Tuesday night.
In another video circulating on social media, Gómez said her son and his friends had just gone to the store to buy sodas. She said the police didn’t provide first aid at the scene.
Her son had a North Carolina driver’s license on him. Some local reports said he was visiting his grandparents.
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement Thursday that it was aware of reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in the town. “We are closely monitoring local authorities’ investigation and stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the statement said.
The town is in an area with high levels of street crime and organized crime activity. On Thursday, the Oaxaca state security agency said in a statement that it had sent state police officers to the town and that the army was sending soldiers to run checkpoints and ensure public safety.
It also said Gov. Alejandro Murat had spoken to Alexander’s mother and promised there would not be impunity.
But Thursday afternoon, there was no sign of soldiers in the town as neighbors, friends and relatives, including Martínez’s father who flew in from North Carolina, said goodbye to the boy.
In an emotional moment, his casket was taken to the local soccer field and placed in the penalty area. One of his friends passed the ball, which rebounded off the casket and into the goal so Martínez could score a final goal as onlookers shouted “justice.”
Various criminal groups are present in the area near Oaxaca’s border with Veracruz state, including the Jalisco New Generation cartel. The National Guard, army and state security forces have had operations in the area.
Mexico has a long history of human rights violations by security forces.
The killing comes amid greater attention to police killings and racial injustice in the United States after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Protests have spread to Mexico and last week highlighted the death of Giovanni López, a man allegedly beaten to death by police in a town south of Guadalajara in May.
Associated Press journalist Félix Márquez reported this story in Acatlan de Perez Figeuroa and AP writer Maria Verza reported from Mexico City.