Episode 20: ‘The Siege of Culiacán’
Producer/Director Andréa Schmidt
By the time the Mexican soldiers showed up at the drug cartel scion’s door, the city was already burning. After they handed him a cellphone to call off his henchmen, it would only get worse.
Young girls in their school uniforms ducked for cover as Sinaloa cartel soldiers traded machine-gun fire with surprised Mexican security forces. Frightened families huddled inside apartments as gunmen with gas cans threatened to burn them to the ground. Pickup trucks outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns closed down thoroughfares, trapping civilians and cutting off police reinforcements.
“In my 21 years of covering crime at the heart of drug world, this has been the worst shootout and the most horrible situation I have ever encountered,” Ernesto Martínez, a local reporter, told The New York Times.
Martínez was on his way from reporting on one shooting in the city of Culiacán when he was caught in the middle of another gun battle, one of a series of seemingly random firefights around the city on Oct. 17.
They weren’t random. The Sinaloa cartel’s day of mayhem was a planned response to the operation last month to capture one of the sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as El Chapo. But like his father many times before him, Ovidio Guzmán López escaped, embarrassing the Mexican government — again.
“The Weekly” travels to Sinaloa State, where the story of a city under siege was told in real time on social media by the terrified civilians, overmatched security forces and cartel gunmen recording on their phones. The Times’s visual investigations team reconstructs the shootout that left 13 people dead, according to local reports. And our reporters in Mexico track the steps — and missteps — that led to the botched raid and increasing questions about the government’s ability to combat the spiraling violence.
Members of The Times’s video investigations team, Ainara Tiefenthäler and Haley Willis, reconstructed the chaotic events of Oct. 17 in Culiacán from video footage of the siege shot by those who lived through it — civilians, soldiers and cartel gunmen.
Our bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Azam Ahmed, and our reporter Paulina Villegas reported from Culiacán, in Sinaloa State, for “The Weekly.”