EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Juan Carlos Llorca, a veteran Associated Press journalist who covered immigration and the drug war along the U.S.-Mexico border, and whose reporting on illegal international adoptions helped prompt national reforms in Guatemala, has died at age 40.
Llorca collapsed at his home Monday in El Paso and was rushed to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead, according to his sister, Maria Jimena Llorca. The cause of his death is pending.
Llorca spent years reporting on illegal international adoptions in Guatemala, becoming one of the first journalists to uncover a smuggling trade in which infants were placed for adoption with unsuspecting couples, mostly from the United States.
Authorities discovered evidence of fraud that was later revealed to include false paperwork, fake birth certificates, women coerced into giving up their children and even child theft. At least 25 cases resulted in criminal charges against doctors, lawyers, mothers and civil registrars.
Llorca's reporting helped prompt Guatemala to suspend international adoptions and adopt reforms in 2008. He'd joined the AP three years earlier in Guatemala.
As a political writer for El Periodico de Guatemala, a well-respected daily newspaper in Guatemala City, Llorca was selected for a Scripps Howard Foundation journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C., in 2002.
Llorca became AP's correspondent in El Paso, Texas, in 2011. In addition to covering Mexico's drug war and the border town of Ciudad Juarez — when violence there was at its worst — Llorca honed his photography skills, becoming a journalist who was able to report, write and shoot photos for his stories.
He covered a variety of topics from his base in Texas, including the surge of Central Americans coming across the U.S. border last summer and the exposure of potentially hundreds of infants to tuberculosis at an El Paso hospital.
Llorca's colleagues spoke Tuesday of his kindness and quick wit, his eye for what would make a great picture and the bulldog mentality he brought to stories large and small.
"He was one of the great voices of his generation," said Moises Castillo, a longtime AP photographer in Guatemala, who also worked with Llorca at El Periodico. "He was a talented journalist, a great writer and friend. He really made every day count."
Llorca had two teenage sons who had recently joined him in El Paso to attend school.
A few days before he died, Llorca posted a message on Facebook. "If I could wish for something — anything at all — it would be to have dreadlocks like Bob Marley," he wrote. "With everything else you could ask for, I'm good."