Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

The Photographer of the Dead

Monday, February 15, 2010 |

The photographer of the death has photographed 2,000 executions.

Ciudad Juarez, Chih - Just in one single day he photographed 19 executions and in ten years has surpassed 2,000. Lucio Soria is a photojournalist with the police beat of the newspaper PM in Ciudad Juarez, the most violent city in the world, where in January alone there were 250 drug-related executions.

He is 59 years old and sometimes arrives at the scene before anyone else, except the sicarios, whom are usually seen leaving the crime scene, only to leave the body still with the warm blood that flows from their wounds. "It's my job and that's what gives me the adrenalin," he said in a recent interview.

Soria was born in 1951 in Torreon, Cohauila and at a young age, he moved to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, a place where last year there were 2.600 murders all linked to the narco war.

Soria lives with his wife and three daughters aged 29, 27 and 24. "I am a product for gentlemen, I live full of women," he says between laughs during a phone interview.

Soria began working as a lab technician at Kodak and in 1993 entered the daily newspaper PM, a Ciudad Juarez newspaper with a circulation of 60,000 copies, he covering the police cases.

He works every day except Wednesday. He covers the first shift, 6 am to 2 or 3 pm for the police section of the PM, the most active of any newspaper in the world.

I ask him about the massacre of January 31, were 16 students were killed at a party.
"It was at one in the morning so it was not assigned to me. But during the day I had to go and see how the house was left. And the next day, I took photos during the funeral. And the next day, the same, more pictures of the funerals of the dead."

And I asked him about his last case.
"Well right now, a few minutes ago, I took some pictures of a man who was placed inside a barrel. You could see his shoes and parts of his pants. It seems it was a high school student. "

He has ten years covering the activities of the police in Ciudad Juarez, although he says now, with the arrival of the army, things have changed.

"Right now we have the military and the federal police and working with them is difficult because they are rather strong and don't let you in the area of the crime scene. They put the crime tape and do not let anyone near. That is why you must get there first. With the municipal police it was different because we all knew each other for so many years working with together."

"Therefore to reach the crime scene first is extremely important. Many times I arrive before anyone else. The problem is that we sometimes arrive too early to the scene and we see that the infamous sicarios are retreating after having killed, then there is fear. And they see me. It happens that I have been lucky as they have not come back to finish off a potential witness. Now I don't go alone, I go with others."

Have you had trouble with the police?
"No, never."

And the sicarios, have they threatened you?
"Never."

Do you feel afraid at times?
"In the last past two months, yes. I'm afraid to arrive alone. But when the other media arrives everything changes. I am cautious, but not fear."

How many deaths have you photographed?
"I think I've photographed more than 2,000 deaths in ten years, men, women and children."

Does that affect you?
"All executions are different. They are of narco dealers as are of emotional tragedy. I'm deeply affected when I encounter women and children among the dead. And when relatives arrive to the scene they start crying and the feds do not let them go to the scene. Also when there are children. Or when they kill cops. All are different."

"The times when I feel really bad is when there are children. I had an assignment in the downtown area with a dad who brought his 12 year old dead daughter that was killed like all the adults. And that really affected me because I could see the bullet holes in her little face. And since I was on top of a roof I was very close to them and I could see everything. And it was a little girl! What would happen if it was one of my own daughters or coworker? It affects me a lot."

"And I've known many of those executed, especially the police commanders, whom I knew for many years. There is no longer any of them left that I knew when I started working because they all have been executed. They're all dead, as well as the ministry officers. Is that we live in a city that is super violent."

And when you gets home, do they ask you how was work?
"My daughters always ask me, 'how many were there dad?" And my sisters in law always ask me. Even in the conversation we have when we sit down to eat. And at parties, people are always asking. I sometimes think I work for the funeral home. They ask, 'hey Tell me about the dead,' and I tell them. I just finish taking some photos in the valley of Juarez last Saturday. They dumped some "encobijados" (bodies wrapped in a blanket) and cut off their heads. And yesterday they apprehended ten sicarios. It does worry me but I only see it as work. It's just sad, but that comes with the work.

Still, Soria prepares his Nikon Model D300F and goes out to photograph executions.

"I have many years doing this kind of work. Before I started working for this newspaper I was a lab technician, developing rolls of film. From there I went to social news, I covered entertainment and I covered sports but where I identified the most was covering the police beat because I liked listening to the police radio and learn the code words of the police."

Tell me the code words, I asked him.
"When there is a natural death and is not an execution, is a Z23. And when it is an execution it's a Z59 in a 16, which is the place. And they give the place with the code 16, like today in the streets Candelario Cervantes and Baudelio Uribe in the community la colonia Revolución Mexicana, a Z59 overe. And there I go, grab my hat, in the little car of El Diario."

"This is what I really like and is what gives me the adrenalin, sweat and work. In cold weather we freeze and and in hot weather we are soaked walking in sweat, full of dirt, mud, but this is the work and then again, this is what I like. If I did not like, I swear I would not be working the police beat."

Do you remember the shift with the most deaths?
"In one morning I did 19 people dead , just in one of those events there were four murdered, another event had five, at another event were two ... it was a year ago. And they were all executions. And the next day they only used like five or six pictures, because they did not have room for all of them."

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