XALAPA, Mexico (AP) — Attackers burst into an elementary school where a Christmas party was taking place and shot reporter Gumaro Perez to death Tuesday, making him at least the 10th journalist slain in Mexico this year in what observers have called a crisis of freedom of expression.
The Veracruz state security coordinator said in a statement that dozens of parents and children were present when the unidentified attackers shot Perez, whose own child attends the school in the city of Acayucan.
Perez, 34, covered crime for a number of local outlets, had founded the online news site La Voz del Sur and also worked for the local government in some capacity.
He was part of a state program designed to protect journalists as they carry out certain "high-risk" coverage, separate from a federal government program known as "the mechanism" that offers reporters measures like panic buttons on their cellphones and home security.
"He belonged to the preventive program for safe coverage of this Commission since 2015, which refers to mechanisms for reporting that diminish danger in high-risk events," the Veracruz State Commission for Attention and Protection of Journalists said in a statement. "Nevertheless, regrettably, he had not made us aware of having received any threats that could have put him at risk."
Commission president Ana Laura Vazquez said the group would monitor the investigation and urged the government of the Gulf coast state to bring his killers to justice.
Adelina Mendoza, Perez's widow, said in an interview published by the local branch of the online news outlet E-Consulta that for the last year she had begged him to leave journalism and open a restaurant with her, but he refused.
She told E-Veracruz.mx that Perez arrived on time at the holiday party Tuesday and planned to keep their son company so she could leave early.
While Perez remained indoors, "I went outside and my son went out of the room with his little friends," Mendoza was quoted as saying. "I hugged him, I gave him a kiss because I was leaving, and right then I heard the gunshots. But I thought they were fireworks that some child had brought."
"God knows how to do things, because my son never saw his father die," she said.
Gov. Miguel Angel Yunes condemned the shooting and said he ordered state police to provide protection to the journalist's family.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson wrote on Twitter that she was offended by Perez's death at the hands of "cowardly killers."
"The truth cannot be killed by killing journalists," Jacobson tweeted.
Mexico is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists, and Veracruz, plagued by drug gang violence and corruption, is seen as the worst state, with several killed there this year
They include Candido Rios, a hard-nosed crime reporter for Diario de Acayucan, who was shot dead Aug. 22 at a highway gas station convenience store about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Acayucan despite having been enrolled in the federal protection program.
Newspaper columnist Ricardo Monlui was killed in the Veracruz town of Yanga, near the city of Cordoba, on March 19 as he left a restaurant with his wife and son. The attacker appeared to have been lying in wait.
And Armando Arrieta Granados, news editor for the newspaper La Opinion de Poza Rica, Veracruz, was seriously wounded in late March in a shooting outside his home.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 95 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992. In 43 of those cases the motive has been confirmed as being directly related to the victims' work — including six in 2017, higher than any other year in that period, the group says.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the U.S. ambassador's last name is Jacobson.