Two Kansas men, one of whom formerly lived in Finney County, allegedly were killed by law enforcement while traveling in the Mexican state of Coahuila in the town of Saltillo.
Family members say both men, Demetrius Atkins Jr. and Edgar Hugo Valdez Rodriguez, were living in Wichita, according to KAKE News, and were en route to Guanajuato to vacation and retrieve items belonging to the father of Valdez Rodriguez. Atkins is a former Finney County resident.
According to KAKE, Atkins, 32, was a U.S. citizen and Valdez Rodriguez, 39, was born in Mexico but was legally living in the United States.
The State Department confirmed Atkins’ death in an official statement reading: “We can confirm the death of U.S. citizen Demetrius Atkins in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. We extend our condolences to his family and friends. The U.S. Consulate General is providing consular services to his family. Out of respect for his family during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
According to the Saltillo Herald, a Mexican newspaper, police initially reported that the men were killed Oct. 28 on the Saltillo-Zacatecas Highway after they sped through a safety checkpoint in a pickup and began firing at officers of the GROM police squad, which the Associated Press described as an elite, SWAT-style law enforcement unit.
A statement issued by police later that day claimed that officers “gunned down two armed civilians after they (officers) responded to an armed attack,” the AP reported.
“Several yards down the road they fired their weapons several times at the GROM officers, who chased them,” the statement continued, adding that “officers returned fire, killing the two suspects.”
An official in the state prosecutor’s office noted contradictions in the version of the story given by police. Namely, the Saltillo Herald reported, that the men were not carrying firearms at the time of their death. That led investigators to test the Americans’ hands for gunpowder residue. None was found, and the official concluded that both men were simply driving southbound through the region when they were shot and killed, according to the AP.
The AP reported that the prosecutor’s office did not allow the official to be quoted by name.
Now the officers charged with the men’s deaths, Ivan Vadimir and Felix Moreno, are awaiting arraignment in jail on first-degree homicide charges and face up to 50 years in prison, according to the Saltillo Herald. The same article reported that Vadimir is considered the main perpetrator. He allegedly shot the driver of the pickup, who was not identified, at least six times in the head. Moreno is being prosecuted as an accomplice.
LaToya Escamilla, the mother of Atkins’ child who formerly attended Lakin High School, said Atkins was “kind to everyone.”
“He was a good man,” she added. “He loved his daughter with all his heart.”
Atkins’ mother, Teresa Allen, could not be reached for comment. She told KAKE News a few days ago that she is working to have her son’s remains returned to the United States.
She explained that Valdez Rodriguez was her son’s boss and that they had stopped in Saltillo on the way to their destination.
KAKE also reported that the wife of Valdez Rodriguez said the trip was made spontaneously, and her husband called her in a panic while in Saltillo, asking for money to be wired to him on the day he was killed. She said she later lost contact with him, and only found out days later through Facebook that both men were dead.
The State Department issued a travel warning on Dec. 8, 2016, to U.S. citizens planning to go to Mexico. The warning was issued in response to the prevalence of organized criminal activity in the country. The online version of the warning was updated on Aug. 22 and reports that U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crimes including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican states.
The State Department advises U.S. citizens to divert non-essential travel to Coahuila, but warned that Saltillo, Bosques de Monterreal and Parras de la Fuente share high incidence of violent crime, especially along the highways between Piedras Negras and Nuevo Laredo. No advisory is in effect for Guanajuato.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the town, Saltillo, where the incident occurred.