How One Mother Fought The Cartel & Changed A City

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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When Miriam Rodríguez’s 20-year-old daughter, Karen Alejandra Salinas Rodriguez, went missing in 2014, she began tracking the people responsible for the kidnapping and murder. In the three years that followed her daughter’s disappearance until her own death at the hands of the cartel, Rodríguez hunted down at least 10 people, completely on her own.

Rodríguez, unwilling to accept law enforcement’s excuses and unwillingness to look further into her daughter’s kidnapping, began stalking and successfully capturing nearly every living member of the crew that had abducted her daughter for ransom. She took on fake identities, dyed her hair, and got close to those she thought were tied to the kidnappers to get names, addresses, and their daily rituals. On Mother’s Day, 2017, after coming home from chasing down another one of her daughter’s kidnappers, she was shot thirteen times, in front of her home, by some of the people she had helped put away.

Her journey is just one of many in the city of San Fernando, Mexico, where the total population is about 60,000, yet there have been disproportionate murders and kidnappings. The killings got so bad at one point, that the media stopped reporting any mass burial site that didn’t at least have 20 victims.

For a short while, the city of San Fernando was quiet, until there was another disappearance. Fourteen-year-old Luciano Leal Garcia was kidnapped in July of this year, and Rodríguez’s son, Luis, couldn’t help but see the eerie resemblance to his sister’s disappearance. After his mother’s murder, Luis moved back home to take over a group for families whose loved ones had been taken or killed by the cartel. Garcia’s family spoke about how Garcia was tricked via Facebook into meeting, what he thought, was a teenage girl. Instead, a truck pulled up on each side of the car Luciano was driving, taking the car and the teenager inside of it.

But, Garcia’s family didn’t approach the kidnapping like Miriam Rodríguez did. While they kept paying ransoms, as Miriam Rodríguez did, hoping that would bring their child home, they also took to the streets. Friends and family, who had remained silent on what was happening in the city, started marching and searching for Garcia. In August, the family took their cause to Mexico City to demand the government get involved and in October, they had captured one of Garcia’s own cousins who was involved with the cartel. Though government officials never stated how, they found Garcia’s body in a shallow grave, covered by garbage to hide any scent.

The town that had long witnessed senseless kidnappings and murders, were no longer silent. They came out to mourn alongside a long procession of mourners for Garcia’s funeral.

His mother thanked everyone for risking their lives to help find her son. “You have all taught my family that together we can fight back,” she said. “We must rid ourselves of the fear to stand up and speak out.”