We Witnessed A Murder – Vanlife Mexico

We witnessed a murder. It feels strange to put this in writing. But it’s true. It’s not clickbait. I hesitated to write a post about it because I didn’t want to add to the sensational reporting of crime and violence in Mexico, which is rampant in the media. I also didn’t want to worry friends and family, whom I know already worry. However, ultimately, I decided that not writing a post about this event would be misrepresenting our travel experience and doing a disfavour to our readers and followers, particularly those who use our posts to inspire and inform their own travels. Slow Sally & Crew is a travel blog, our little space on the internet where we share all our most interesting adventures – good, bad, and ugly. And this is by far the ugliest to date.

So, here it is. The story of a murder in Patzcuaro Mexico, its’ effect on our perception of safety in Mexico, and whether it will influence our future travel plans.  

The Story

It was Monday, February 27th, our first full day in the lovely town of Patzcuaro. We were pleased to have finally arrived in our southernmost destination, the place we would be calling home for the next 3-4 weeks, and eager to explore the ‘Plaza Grande’, Patzcuaro’s central square. We made our way up a shaded, tree-lined street that connected our campground to Plaza Grande. It was alive with activity. Locals were busily going about their daily activities. Kids were making their way home from school. Dogs were wandering up and down the sidewalk, looking for the best shade spot. Patzcuaro is a charming colonial town and is considered one of the safest places to visit in the state of Michoacan. On this bright, sunny afternoon, safety was the last thing on our minds.

Walking toward Plaza Grande, just a few minutes before the murder

Our first impression of Plaza Grande was: spectacular. It’s filled with enormous leafy trees, fountains, benches, and landscaped walkways and lined on all sides with shops, cafes, hotels, vendors, and restaurants. We had just begun meandering around the square in search of the café that was recommended to us when I heard two pops: “pop-pop”. Walter was a bit spooked, but I was not the least bit fazed by the sound. I’ve grown so accustomed to pops and bangs in Mexico – backfiring vehicles and firecrackers of all sizes set off at any time of day – that I didn’t think anything of it. I casually asked Marc: “firecrackers”? It was 2:22 pm.

Plaza Grande on a typical afternoon

Before Marc could answer, I saw locals literally running for their lives in the opposite direction of the popping sounds. I distinctly remember a father ducking for cover and grabbing his children’s hands as they ran into the nearest store. I froze momentarily, trying to reconcile my doubt that there was anything to worry about with the terror-stricken faces of people passing by. We ran to the entrance of the nearest hotel and in the most Canadian way possible, politely asked the attendant if we could enter with the dog. A definite facepalm moment in hindsight. We spent a couple of minutes hiding inside the hotel; Walter and I rested on the bench while Marc peeked out to see what was going on. In Spanglish, Marc asked the concierge, “Is it possible that sound was a gun?”. Unconcerned, the concierge answered, “No, things like that don’t happen here”.

We soon left the safety of the hotel to join the gathering crowd of people on the other side of the square. As we approached, we caught a glimpse of a body on the ground. Marc quickened his pace, hoping that he could help with his experience in First Aid, however as he neared the front of the crowd, he noticed that the young man was clearly dead and that the policeman standing over him had come to the same conclusion. In no time, ambulances, and police cars of all types – municipal, state, and federal – arrived on the scene. The crowd of shocked bystanders to which we now belonged was shooed backward as police tape was extended around the scene. We exchanged information and stories with other tourists as each of us tried to grasp what had just happened. We learned that two men on a motorbike had shot the victim twice in a drive-by shooting and had escaped by one of the crowded streets surrounding the square.

With the drama mostly over, we wandered to the café we’d initially been looking for and took a seat. The scene of the crime was in full view of the café, and we watched with the locals and other tourists as the police conducted their investigation. We sipped our coffee while trying to process what had just happened. I think at that point, we were in a state of disbelief. It seemed strange that after such a horrific incident, everyone – including us – was just reverting to our regular activities. But I suppose, what else was there to do?

By the time we arrived back at our campground, news of the murder and information about the victim started spreading. We learned that the victim was a 30-year-old local man and that his murder was a targeted hit. We’ve since heard speculation about the motive, but I won’t repeat it here because ultimately, it’s just that. It took until that evening for the reality of the day’s events to really set in. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly sad for the victim, his friends, and his family, but also for the peaceful town of Patzcuaro, where everyone felt so safe.

Safety in Mexico – Has Our Perception Changed?

The answer is: mostly no… well, maybe a little bit. I think we’re still figuring it out.

We were aware that violent crime happens in Mexico, as it does in countries across the world. The fact that a murder happened wasn’t a surprise. However, witnessing it – especially on a sunny Monday afternoon – caught us off guard. Hearing and reading about violence is one thing. Seeing it happen with our own eyes was quite another.  As a result, I think we’ll be extra vigilant (and probably a little more paranoid) about safety and security for the foreseeable future, warranted or not.

In the days following the murder, we were both a little more on edge as we walked around town. Not because we felt unsafe. Not because we were worried another murder was imminent. But because it’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. We were a little jumpier with every pop of a firecracker and boom of a backfiring motorcycle. However, as the days pass and we explore each beautiful nook and cranny of Patzcuaro and the surrounding towns, we’ve started relaxing back into everyday life in Mexico.

Marc & Walter posing overlooking the Once Patios and downtown Patzcuaro

Effect on Our Future Travel Plans

For the most part, this event won’t change our future travel plans. We’ll continue our loop through north/central Mexico and the southwest US this year as planned. Statistics confirm that most destinations in Mexico and in the US are safe for international tourists. Our witnessing a murder doesn’t change that fact – it’s important that we keep the big picture in mind. Of course, traveling has its risks but we minimize those by doing our research and taking recommended precautions.

An Event Doesn’t Define A Place – Stay Tuned

An event doesn’t define a place and despite a dramatic and shocking start to our time in Patzcuaro, it has become one of our favourite destinations in Mexico. We’re into our 3rd week here and when the time comes, it will be very hard to leave. We’re already thinking about returning next year. In the coming posts, we will be sharing with you our adventures in this town and the surrounding villages. We hope you’ll follow along! 

14 thoughts on “We Witnessed A Murder – Vanlife Mexico

  1. Sobering post! There was a news headline this week noting 144 mass shootings so far in 2023 in the U.S. Hopefully deaths like the scene you describe so well do haunt us. We don’t want to live in a future world where the frequency of these events increases or they become less horrific. 😥

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Travel does present experiences and that is what we do it for, this is an unfortunate one. You guys have the right attitude toward it. Remember: FEAR IS THE SAND IN THE MACHINERY OF LIFE. And it certainly prevents a lot of people from experiencing some great things in life. Rock climbing comes to mind and you have conquered that. It was a difficult one for me, been there done that but it never became a passion. We have 11 days left in TX. I do miss not having the Roadtrek, I always enjoyed chasing Spring home looking for that first Robin. Keep trekking and enjoy the adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true. Everything in life is a risk. And while it’s easy to fear violence, the biggest risks on our trip are really things like driving, rock climbing, and tripping over surprise curbs on Mexican sidewalks, lol. Enjoy your final days in Texas – looking forward to connecting once we’re home.


    1. Our next couple of posts will be all about Patzcuaro and area… I really hope people will continue following to following along because this is definitely a gem. We will likely be back another year!


  3. Oh Nat! How horrible!

    You’re absolutely right about such violent events not defining a place – look at Ottawa, where we’ve had several murders by gangs or other crime-related deaths. But this adds to the reputation of Mexico, I’m afraid. I’ve been thinking about you guys since the news of those 4 abducted Americans hit the news.

    Stay safe, enjoy the sun, but come back to us in one piece.

    Love, Pegster

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so sorry to read about this event and your experience. You are brave to tell the story and I hope it helps with your healing as well xo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My goodness Natalie & Marc, that must be very frightening. I’m sure you’re being very careful. I. Can’t read any more about your experience because I don’t know how to get the posts. Stay safe Love, Grandma. oxo

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

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