Mexican authorities discovered the body of an Arizona man killed execution-style on the main highway south of the dangerous border city of Nogales on Monday, hours after the U.S. Consulate General in the city issued a travel advisory for the region.
Police said that the body of Jorge Luis Soto, 25, was found at the wheel of a 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe with gunshot wounds to his face and chest. The SUV’s engine was still running and was parked under an overpass on the highway.
Police in Tucson and neighboring Nogales, Arizona said they had not been notified by Mexican officials about the murder.
Soto’s death is one of five murders in the last three days in Nogales. Four of the victims were found shot dead in cars, but Mexican authorities have not confirmed if the slayings are related.
Late on Sunday evening, the U.S. Consulate General in Nogales – which is located in the state of Sonora – issued a warning for U.S. citizens traveling in the region.
“Due to multiple and ongoing credible threats, the Consulate cautions Americans traveling in Nogales or surrounding areas to defer unnecessary travel at this time,” the warning said. “U.S. Citizens are urged to take the highest precautions regarding their safety and personal security in and around Nogales.”
The U.S. State Department has had a travel advisory for Nogales and surrounding areas in Sonora for a number of years, warning that the region is a hotspot in the international drug and human trafficking trades. The State Department hasn’t updated its travel warning in Sonora since January.
"Don't go. Three things you can consider if you choose to go: Number one, go in a group. Number two, stay in downtown shopping district. Number three, leave before it gets dark," E. Dwayne Tatalovich, a security consultant told Fox 10 about travel to Nogales.
Nogales is a popular destination for medical tourism – many Americans head to the border town for cheap plastic surgery, inexpensive dental procedures and low-priced prescription medicine that can be purchased in Mexico without a prescription.
After the Sinaloa Cartel took control of key drug-trafficking routes in Sonora from the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel in 2010, the region has experienced tenuous peace as the two cartels have operated under a supposed truce that has seen violence spike in other parts of Mexico such as in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo.
But the spate of killings, along with a December 2013 gun battle between Mexican authorities and drug traffickers in Puerto Penasco, have raised concerns that widespread drug violence is rising in Sonora.
There is speculation that the recent capture of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán could create a new round of cartel fighting as a power struggle ensues for the trafficking routes. So far, however, Mexican authorities have remained quiet about the motive of the recent murders or if they were drug-related.