EDITOR’S NOTE: This article contains graphic imagery.
Riding on top of the chatarrero, a junk train heading north, Ismael was recording video on his pink, screen-shattered LG S3 cell phone when he saw another train approaching on the opposite tracks.
Ismael and his girlfriend, Lila (not their real names), were part of an impromptu group of eight undocumented Central American migrants who had banded together to continue their northbound journey through Mexico. A few of them were turning over chunks of scrap metal, looking for nothing in particular, maybe hoping to find something to use or sell. Two Honduran immigrants were riding one car back on a short-sided gondola piled with green-oxidized metal. One of them the group had nicknamed “Catracho” (slang for Honduran). The other the group called “Chino” because of what they considered his slightly Asian-like features. His real name was Beylin Alvino Sarmiento.
Beylin was lanky, wore ripped jeans, and what looked like a donated white polo shirt with red cuffs and collar. On his feet were a pair of Nike Jordans with red accents. He had a long face, with high cheekbones. His eyebrows were thick (one of the consistent traits three witnesses would later remember), and his chin and nose slightly rounded. He was migrating alone.
Ismael wasn’t scared when he noticed the two men on the oncoming train, even though they were heavily-armed and wearing what looked like Mexican Federal Police uniforms, complete with black balaclavas entirely covering their faces. Both trains were in motion, so even if they were Federal Police or Migration authorities there was no way they were going to be able to arrest them.
It was a clear Monday evening, 6:17 pm, August 11 of 2014. The trains, both chugging along slowly, passed each other in a cornfield south of the Querétaro International Airport. As the car Ismael was riding on and the oncoming engine crossed paths, one of the men raised his gun and pointed it at Ismael.
The recording stops at the first gunshot.
There were twelve shots, at least. The first few smacked into the thick metal on the side of the car. The noise was deafening, and then—silence.
Ismael wasn’t hit. Nor was Lila. Nobody in that car was.
But then, the next moment, they could hear it: moaning. It was coming from one car back—the gondola. The gondola with the sides too low to protect a rider from gunfire.
A fast-talking Honduran named Flaco went to check on his traveling companions—but by that time the moaning had stopped. When he came back, he told the group that Catracho was shot in the leg. The young man, Beylin, was dead.
Ismael wanted to make sure. He climbed out of the car, down to the couplings, then up onto the gondola. Beylin was on his stomach, facedown. He had his thumb in his mouth. He wasn’t breathing. Ismael checked his pulse, just in case, but he already knew. He could see the blood. There was a lot of it.