An American teenager who was found dead on Christmas Eve in Mexico had gone to see his girlfriend the day he died and didn't tell relatives, perhaps fearing they wouldn't let him go, according to Mexican prosecutors' documents obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The charred remains of 18-year-old Alexis Uriel Marron of Rolling Meadows, Illinois were found along with the bodies of two friends in the trunk of a burned-out car in the western state of Michoacan. The car belonged to one of the friends.
Two uncles identified Marron through crowns on his teeth and clothing that hadn't burned, the documents said.
The prosecutors' office said the car holding the remains of the three young men was found Saturday on the side of a rural road in Michoacan, a Mexican state that has been plagued in recent years by violence linked to Mexico's drug trafficking trade.
Prosecutors were looking into robbery as a possible motive because none of the three men's possessions were found in the car. But the area has also been the scene of bloody turf battles between drug gangs. The Knights Templar and Jalisco New Generation cartels are believed to be active in the area.
Marron was a U.S. citizen, according to the documents, but his family was from a town in the area called Quiringuicharo. The relatives said Marron, a suburban Chicago high school student, arrived in Mexico on Dec. 3 to celebrate the year-end holidays and was staying with an uncle.
He left the house on Dec. 23, wearing a blue checked shirt, with the intention of visiting his girlfriend, who lived in the neighboring state of Jalisco. Another uncle said he called Marron Friday afternoon to tell him to collect money his father had sent him from the U.S.
Marron replied that he was on the road, and the signal was bad, according to the documents.
When he hadn't returned later in the evening, the family began to worry.
"I thought that he had gone without telling us for fear that we wouldn't give him permission," Jose Avalos Reyes, one of the uncles, told prosecutors.
The cousin of one of the other victims said he called Marron's girlfriend. She told him she had been expecting him and his friends but they had never arrived.
Family members reported the disappearances to local authorities and the charred remains were discovered the next day. The uncles told prosecutors that Marron did not do drugs.
Word of the death spread quickly to the Chicago area, which has a large population of Mexicans and Mexican Americans with roots in Michoacan. Family members were shocked, calling him a good kid.
Friends set up two memorial Facebook pages, a YouTube picture tribute and held a memorial Tuesday evening. Dozens attended in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect. They carried candles, flowers and balloons. Some quietly prayed in Spanish.
He was remembered as an athlete, a positive person who was always smiling and loved spending time with family.
Marron's cousin, Daniela Zendejas, told reporters that she considered him to be a brother. "He loved his nieces. And he didn't have time to get to one of them, to see her grow," she told reporters. "And now he's gone."
Another memorial was planned for next week when students were scheduled to return after the holiday break to Rolling Meadows High School, where Marron was a student. They were urged to wear red, Marron's favorite color.
"Wear red to remember our friend ... RIP Alexis Marron," one of the Facebook tributes read. "We are also all meeting out by his locker in the morning, bring pictures if you'd like or post notes or anything you'd like on his locker. We will all come together in remembrance..."
The U.S. State Department said the agency was working with U.S. Embassy officials to get more information. Mexican Consulate officials in Chicago said they were aware of reports of Marron's death and were ready to help family if requested.
The other two victims were identified as Mexican men aged 21 and 24. All three were from, or had family in Quiringuicharo.
Earlier in December, two other bodies were found in a burned-out vehicle on the same stretch of road. The victims have been identified as two Mexico City residents, but there was no immediate information on the motive in those killings either.
Gustavo Ruiz reported from Michoacan and Sophia Tareen from Chicago