The kidnapping and murder of a university student has sparked broad concern about a rise in targeted kidnappings in Mexico City, and in particular the possible role of criminal group Las Pelonas in these crimes.
The lifeless body of Norberto Ronquillo, a marketing student at the Universidad del Pedregal, in Tlalpan, south of Mexico City, was found on June 9, a few kilometers from his university, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Ronquillo had been kidnapped on June 4. The kidnappers demanded about $260,000 to free him, which his parents paid. But Ronquillo was never released and it is believed that he was murdered a few hours after his abduction.
Initial investigations have pointed to the participation of the criminal gang Las Pelonas in the kidnapping and murder.
Las Pelonas has a history of targeting students in Mexico City’s neighborhoods of Xochimilco, Tlalpan and Coyoacán, the same area where Ronquillo was kidnapped, according to La Silla Rota. Similar ransom demands were also made.
Authorities have had Las Pelonas on their radar since 2007, when they kidnapped Priscila Lora, an 18-year-old girl who was held captive for more than two years and then murdered.
Between 2015 and 2018, five more kidnappings were attributed to the group, with three of the victims being killed and two more returned alive.
The only member Las Pelonas identified by authorities so far has been its leader, known as ”Las Barbas,” according to El Universal.
Authorities believe the gang owns a number of businesses in Mexico City’s neighborhood of Milpa Alta, including restaurants and a club. This allows them to “recruit” young people who are tasked with finding potential targets from among private school students.
Isabel Miranda de Wallace, president of the organization Alto al Secuestro, said the group is very sophisticated and has decades of experience.
“It is a very well structured criminal organization with 30 years of experience. It was believed to have been dismantled but they have regrouped,” she told El Universal.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, large criminal groups in Mexico have fragmented into smaller, more volatile groups with specific criminal portfolios. Las Pelonas, despite its lengthy history, appears to have settled into such a niche in recent years, focusing on kidnapping and murdering wealthy students.
Targeted kidnappings and larger ransoms have become more frequent in the Mexican capital, as reflected in the sharp increase in these crimes in 2017 and 2018.
During the first five months of this year, there were 59 kidnappings in Mexico City, double the amount during over the same period in 2018, according to Alto al Secuestro figures.
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Ronquillo’s abduction and murder, however, has grabbed national attention, highlighting the continued failure by authorities to investigate and stop kidnappings effectively.
His killing also shows how small groups like Las Pelonas are willing to employ violence indiscriminately in Mexico City, threatening to destroy the capital’s reputation as a safe zone inside the country.