World News

American Missing in Mexico Was Killed by Drug Cartel Member, Officials Say

Posted November 16, 2018 2:29 p.m. EST

An American teacher whose baffling disappearance in Mexico last month set off a social media campaign to solicit information was killed by a drug cartel member, Mexican authorities said Thursday.

The teacher, Patrick Braxton-Andrew, 34, went for a walk on Oct. 28 outside the remote town of Urique, in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua, and never returned.

Authorities now say that Braxton-Andrew was killed that day by José Noriel Iran Gil, a member of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel, which is active in much of the country, according to a Facebook post on the official page of Javier Corral Jurado, the governor of Chihuahua state.

“Under the progress in the investigation, I can say that it was a cowardly and brutal murder, of a totally innocent person, a clean man whose misfortune was to cross paths with this rascal,” Corral wrote Thursday.

Authorities said they are searching for the killer, but have not revealed how they determined Braxton-Andrew had been murdered. His body has not been found.

Corral has vowed to bring justice to his family and lauded him as an “explorer who loved Mexico and its people.”

The Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug-trafficking rings, is active in many parts of the country’s north, exerting influence and control through violence, kidnapping and targeted killings.

While the town of Urique is not saturated by tourists, it is known as a destination for the famed El Chepe train, which passes through the stunning natural landscape of the Copper Canyon.

Braxton-Andrew, who was from Davidson, North Carolina, was an algebra and Spanish teacher and had backpacked extensively throughout Latin America.

Braxton-Andrew, who was fluent in Spanish, had been traveling alone in northern Mexico on a break from his job as a part-time teacher in a private school in North Carolina. He had traveled by train on El Chepe and gone hiking alone in the Urique area. He had planned to meet up with his brother in Mexico City later in the month, his family said in a statement. When he failed to do so on Oct. 30, family members knew something was wrong, they wrote on a dedicated Facebook page.

That page, which they created, confirmed his death and posted a tribute Thursday. The family thanked the Chihuahua governor and attorney general for “their unwavering commitment to locating Patrick.”

“Patrick died doing what he loved — traveling and meeting people,” the post read. “Join us in celebrating his life as he would want us to do. We will always remember Patrick and his joy for life.”

During the weeks of uncertainty over Braxton-Andrew’s fate, his relatives shared constant updates of what little they had learned about his disappearance, interspersed with accounts of a man they say had a love for travel, sports and teaching.

They wrote that Braxton-Andrew was last seen around 4 p.m. Oct. 28 when he went for a walk from his hotel in Urique. He had been spotted walking near a ranch outside the town, and locals searched for him after learning that he was missing, with local police joining the effort three days later.

His family set up a base in Mexico City in recent weeks to monitor the search, according to The Charlotte Observer, which spoke with them Wednesday, a day before the news broke of Braxton-Andrew’s death.

As part of the social media campaign seeking information, dozens of supporters shared images of Braxton-Andrew with the hashtag#FindPat and its Spanish-language equivalent, #BuscaPato.

The family also enlisted the help of Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, whose office was in touch with Mexican law enforcement officials.

On Friday, Tillis said the work to find and repatriate the teacher’s body would continue.

“Our hearts go out to his loving family, friends and the communities of Davidson and Mooresville, where he touched countless lives,” Tillis said in a statement. “Patrick’s family deserves justice, and I will continue to work with the U.S. Department of State and federal officials as Mexican law enforcement continues their investigation.”