MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s president said Thursday forensic tests have confirmed that a body found in northern Mexico was that of a drug gang leader accused of murdering two Jesuit priests last year.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador did not say whether the tests involved a DNA match or fingerprints.
The sister of accused killer José Noriel Portillo Gil, alias “El Chueco,” or “The Crooked One,” had earlier identified his body by sight.
The murder of the two beloved Jesuit priests in June 2022 had shocked Mexico. The Jesuits said in a statement Wednesday that the suspect’s death proves the government can’t catch criminals and has lost control of parts of the country.
Despite nine months of supposed searches for Portillo Gil, the circumstances of his death suggest he was executed by his own or a rival drug gang. Portillo Gil’s gang was also implicated in the 2018 killing of an American travelling in the area.
Portillo Gil was believed to have been shot to death some time Monday. The body was found in a field on Tuesday, after someone called police to report a dead body.
The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are known, said Wednesday that the mere fact that Portillo Gil had been shot to death didn’t mean justice had been done.
“If it is confirmed that this is the person implicated in the murder of the two Jesuit priests, his turning up dead can in no way be considered a triumph for justice, or a solution to the structural problem of violence” in the mountainous Sierra Tarahumara region, the Jesuits said in a statement.
“On the contrary, the lack of an adequate legal process in the murder case would only imply the Mexican government has failed in its basic duties and confirm that the authorities do not have control of the territory,” according to the Society of Jesus.
López Obrador and the Defense Department had vowed to find Portillo Gil and bring him to justice.
It is not uncommon in Mexico for cartels to kill one of their own members, if their misdeeds have resulted in increased police or military pressure that affects the gang’s business.
The murdered priests, the Rev. Javier Campos, 79, and the Rev. Joaquín Mora, 80, had spent much of their lives serving the Rarámuri community in the Chihuahua town of Cerocahui, despite fierce violence by drug gangs and illegal loggers in the area.
Portillo Gil was also accused in the 2018 killing of Patrick Braxton-Andrew, a 34-year-old Spanish teacher from North Carolina who was traveling in the Tarahumara mountains.
Portillo Gil’s gang apparently suspected Braxton-Andrew of being a U.S. drug agent and killed him.