It was evening in Ajalpan when two young pollsters from Mexico’s capital ducked into a store to conduct a survey about tortilla consumption.
Someone didn’t like it, and they called the cops. “There are suspicious people on Guerrero Street. They’re asking a lot of questions,” the anonymous tipster reported, Police Chief Juan Manuel Gonzalez said.
An hour and a half later, brothers Jose and David Copado Molina lay dead, mistaken for criminals and beaten to death by a mob of townspeople frightened by both the gang violence plaguing much of Mexico and recent tales of alleged child abductions.
Rumours spread recently in this part of southeastern Puebla state by word-of-mouth and on social media: Someone is kidnapping children to snatch their organs. Many grew furious with the mayor for purportedly failing to ensure public safety, though authorities say they have not received a single complaint of an abduction.
The churning emotions displayed in Ajalpan underline the feelings of insecurity and lack of trust in authorities to keep people safe in Mexico, where many thousands of people have disappeared in recent years.
As police took Jose and David to City Hall to try to protect them, angry people surrounded the building. Initially deemed suspicious for asking a lot of questions, the Copados were now accused of molesting a local girl.
She was brought to City Hall along with her parents, but said she had never even seen the brothers before. The parents went outside and tried to calm the mob.
“‘You’re letting yourselves be fooled,’ they told them,” municipal secretary Juan Guzman recalled.
The crowd, by now some 2,000 strong, began to pelt the building with rocks.
Gonzalez, the police chief, tried to move the Copados to safety on the second floor. But people broke inside and began trashing the place as the brothers looked on in shock.
“The last thing I remember was the two brothers holding onto each other’s hands,” Gonzalez said.
The mob dragged them outside and beat them to death.
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