EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Three days after a violent spree culminated with the shooting death of two Jesuit priests, Mexican authorities say they now know what happened Monday in the town of Cerocahui, Chihuahua.
On that day, a man already wanted on drug and murder charges was stewing over a lost baseball game and unleashed his rage on members of a rival team.
“On Monday, Jose Noriel Portillo Gil, alias ‘El Chueco,’ went looking for Paul B., a local resident,” Chihuahua Attorney General Roberto Fierro said in an online news conference. “It had to do with a team ‘El Chueco’ sponsors … after he lost, there was an argument with the other team.”
Portillo allegedly went to Paul B.’s home, shot him, set his home on fire and took both Paul B. and his brother Armando B. – who also plays in the team – away in a vehicle, Fierro said. A woman and a child were in the home at the time but managed to escape. Investigators could not immediately locate them, so initial reports had them being abducted as well, the AG said.
A few hours later, Portillo drove to a hotel in Cerocahui where Pedro Palma worked as a tour guide. Fierro said “El Chueco” abducted the tour guide and attacked him. The AG didn’t say if Palma was also a member of the rival baseball team, but emphasized that no tourists were harmed or abducted.
“He fled and arrived with multiple contusions to the church to seek aid … and the two priests were attacked,” too, he said.
The Revs. Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquin Mora, 80, were shot while interceding for the tour guide.
“One could say they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. But that’s not the case. Both priests were exercising their duty of aiding physically and spiritually a person in danger of losing his life,” the Diocese of the Tarahumara Mountains said in a statement.
The suspect allegedly placed the three bodies on the back of a pickup and drove away. Police on Wednesday found the bodies in a hilly area known as Pito Real, near the San Rafael-Creel Highway, Fierro said. The two missing baseball players have not been located yet.
A third priest witnessed the shooting at the San Francisco parish and recognized Portillo as the attacker. There may have been other witnesses, and on Tuesday one investigator told local media they said Portillo “andaba bien loco” (was high on drugs).
Mexican authorities are offering a 5-million-peso ($250,000) reward for information leading to the capture of “El Chueco,” whose nickname translates to “The Crooked One” or “The Crook.”
Fierro said 250 Mexican National Guard troops had arrived in the region to take part in the manhunt for “El Chueco.” He said U.S. authorities would be contacted if state police were to receive information the suspect might be headed for the United States, he said.
Portillo is also a suspect in the 2018 murder of North Carolina teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrew in the nearby town of Urique. The region is known for its natural beauty (Creel is a staging point for tourists visiting Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon) and Tarahumara Indigenous communities. Local news reports at the time stated “El Chueco” erroneously believed the teacher might be a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
Chihuahua state authorities have linked Portillo to the Los Salazar cell of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which operates in the mountains of Western Chihuahua.