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Family and colleagues of a Mexican crime photographer gather to pay final respects


Family and colleagues of a well-known crime photographer in Mexico gathered last night to pay their final respects. Margarito Martinez was shot dead this week in the northern border city of Tijuana. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Relatives and friends of Margarito Martinez gathered inside a small chapel at a midtown Tijuana mortuary last night. Rosa Martinez Esquivel (ph) says her younger brother was a great man.

ROSA MARTINEZ ESQUIVEL: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "And a great father, a great brother and son," she says. Dozens of flower arrangements and several poster-sized portraits of Martinez surrounded his simple, wooden casket. A small stand was outfitted with his signature beige vest, black hat and his long lens camera. In Tijuana, with one of Mexico's highest crime rates, Martinez had no shortage of material.

ESQUIVEL: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "We always worried about the work he did," says his sister. "But we never thought this could happen." Martinez photographed crime scenes here for nearly two decades. Colleagues called him 4-4 - cuatro, cuatro - like the police code, says local reporter Gabriela Martinez Cordova (ph).

GABRIELA MARTINEZ CORDOVA: For the cops, it's different. But for us, that was the signal everything is calm.

KAHN: It was the signal Martinez would give to fellow reporters that a crime site was safe to visit since he was usually the first one on the scene. On Monday afternoon, Martinez left his house, working on a tip. He took photos for at least five local outlets and often worked with national and international reporters, too. He was shot right outside his house.


MARGARITO MARTINEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Recently, Martinez told colleagues he felt threatened, like in this voice message he sent to a fellow reporter last month.


MARTINEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He was most concerned about a public conflict he had with a man who posts graphic crime scenes and other images to Facebook and social media sites. That blogger was arrested Wednesday but hasn't been charged in Martinez's murder. In recent years, there's been a proliferation of such websites, many free to post unsubstantiated accusations about the city's shadowy underworld. Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Committee to Protect Journalists Mexico representative, says the sites blur the lines of journalism. So one can't tell who is a real reporter and who isn't.

JAN-ALBERT HOOTSEN: They don't know how to distinguish between traditional journalists and those who have these sort of murky websites and blogs. And they will end up showing violent behavior towards everybody who does any kind of coverage in such a situation.

KAHN: Hootsen says most crimes go unsolved in Mexico. So killers continue to kill with near complete impunity. Mexico is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists outside war zones. Reporter Gabriela Martinez Cordova says she writes a lot about Tijuana's crime victims.

CORDOVA: But I think this is the first time that I have this sensation. I don't want to write.

KAHN: She says this time, though, when it's about her friend's death, she just can't find the words.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.

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