An American tourist couple were pulled out of their car at a checkpoint in Mexico and shot in the head, execution-style, in front of their 12-year-old son, according to reports.
The family from Utah were driving from Acapulco to a beach resort town through the dangerous Guerrero region, where armed gangs frequently use roadblocks to extort travelers, on July 19.
Paul D. Nielsen, 52, and Janeth Vázquez, 43, who is reportedly is originally from Puebla, Mexico, failed to stop at the checkpoint in Petatlan, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
They were pursued by a gang of heavily armed men, who stopped them and shot them.
Their son survived the attack.
According to Nielsen’s younger sister, Vilate Ssempala, the roadblock was put up by a local gang to extort travelers.
Their 12-year-old son, Joel Rojas, was taken to a nearby hospital. According to some reports he had been injured in the gunfire. However, other reports made no mention of gunshot injuries, specifically saying that he had suffered a psychological breakdown.
The family was just 10 miles away from their destination, the coastal town of Zihuatanejo.
Neilson's sister Rose Neilson Nayler confirmed that her brother had been killed.
She added, "I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for all those who have donated to help Paul’s family during this tragic time."
Travel WarningsThe U.S. government in April issued a Level 2 travel advisory on Mexico due to crime and kidnapping, noting that "violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread."
The state of Guerrero is one of five Mexican states where Americans are specifically warned not to travel due to crime.
"Armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero," notes the advisory. "Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers.
With Mexico’s population pushing 130 million, that brings the annual murder rate to around 25 murders per 100,000 people, in comparison to around five murders per 100,000 people in the United States.
The 33,341 cases do not include the category of “culpable homicide” which adds another 17,000 deaths.
Mexico’s rising death rate pushes it higher and for the first time this year it will be listed in the top 20 countries experiencing the highest homicide prevalence rates, according to the World Economic Forum.
The rise in murders is linked to drug cartel violence that has continued to rise despite the military crackdown that started 12 years ago.