In the past few weeks, the internet has become captivated by the story of a mother who sought out her daughter’s killers in what is being called the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. The story of Miriam Rodriguez is going viral, shocking everyone with the bravery of a 56-year-old other who had to take up the mantle of getting justice for her daughter, who was kidnapped and killed by the Los Zeta drug cartel. Over a period of five years, she assisted in the search and capture of nearly all living members of the group who originally kidnapped her daughter. Despite her harrowing tale of perseverance and justice, the end of the story has people up in arms about the way her case and her daughter’s case was handled by investigating agencies.
For over ten years, Mexico has been torn by violence between multiple criminal organizations who have laid individual claim to drug-smuggling routes into the United States. These routes are lucrative and considered an asset to drug traffickers who want to move illegal drugs into the United States. In-depth coverage on these efforts to quash drug-trafficking has never been consistent and can drastically change depending on what mainstream media outlet is reporting, but one thing is clear: The conflict has caused millions of ripple effects in families of both Mexicans and Americans who have lost loved ones to the violence and cannot get justice.
Since 2006, more than 79,000 have vanished south of the border, the highest amount since the end of the Cold War. Miriam Rodriguez was one of thousands of parents who could not get answers in the cases of their missing children who had gone missing or befallen violence tangential to the Los Zeta cartel. Her 20-year-old daughter, Karen, was kidnapped and killed in 2012. She was carjacked by members of the Los Zeta cartel, who drove the car off with Karen still inside. The objective was to post ransom for Karen’s safe return, but despite her family’s compliance with their demands, Karen was still murdered by the cartel. It would be two long years before her remains would finally be discovered on an empty ranch in 2014. When Miriam was unable to get justice for Karen through the typical channels of law enforcement, she became a woman on a mission to find Karen’s killers.
Like many mothers of missing children, Miriam Rodriguez was driven to activism on behalf of missing children in a familiar mission to mitigate the suffering of other families through education and advocacy. She formed a non-governmental group of 600 families working in tandem to find their missing loved ones. As her daughter’s case continued to go unsolved, Miriam took up the mantle of finding the killers herself. Her methodology mirrored that of a private investigator. Based on conversations with the kidnappers, she was able to seize on a few key pieces of information to actually track one of the kidnappers down on Facebook. She followed lead after lead, armed with a handgun, a fake ID, and disguises that she used to extract information from relevant subjects in the case.
In the sharing of Miriam’s story, people have compared her to a vigilante, not unlike Liam Neeson’s character from the movie, Taken, in which a former CIA operative goes on a rogue mission to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a sex-trafficking ring. Details of Miriam’s story have been muddled in this comparison, with many people believing that she hunted these men down and killed them herself. The truth is that Miriam continued to work with law enforcement on her efforts to bring these men to justice—just not at their behest. In an incident reported by the New York Times when Miriam’s story broke, she had tracked one of Karen’s kidnappers to a vendor’s booth, selling sunglasses. Despite the fact that the man recognized her and gave chase, Miriam was able to tackle him and hold him at gunpoint for almost an hour until authorities arrived to take him into custody. Miriam is credited with taking down at least ten members of the Los Zeta drug cartel during her search. The critical arrest of a man called “Sama,” who was tracked down and arrested with the help of Miriam, led to the implication of several criminal conspirators and perpetrators in Karen’s abduction and murder. An officer who reportedly worked with Miriam in arresting these men remarked on the quality of work this 56-year-old mother did during her independent investigation, “She had gone to every single level of government and they had slammed the door in her face…To help her hunt down the people who took her daughter—it was the greatest privilege of my career.”
Miriam’s story has been shared for her bravery and diligence in bringing her daughter’s killers to justice, but ultimately, the cartel was able to retaliate in a devastating manner. Miriam Rodriguez was murdered in her front yard on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2017. She was shot 12 times as she exited her car in her driveway. Her husband found her face down with her hand in her purse, indicative that she had been reaching for the concealed handgun in her purse. Her murder has forced other civilians with knowledge of the case into secrecy or hiding, convinced that the same people who hunted Miriam down would also come for them. Thus the cycle of intimidation, violence, and war with law enforcement begins anew in Mexico.