Mystery Surrounds Death of Colorado Springs Journalist
The ongoing investigation regarding the death of an AP intern working in Mexico City has yet to yield any answers. Armando Montaño, 22, of Colorado Springs, CO, was found in an elevator shaft on June 30, but officials have not stated whether the death was accidental or suspicious. Montaño was a member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and had already received numerous awards for his work during his tragically short career.
"Our thoughts go out to his family," the NLGJA said in a press release. "He was a talented individual with a passion for journalism. Montaño, known to friends as "Mando," was to attend this year’s UNITY Student Project, and a member of both NLGJA and NAHJ. Our community has lost a great, young talent."
Original reports in the Denver Westword blog stated that police officers in the Mexican capital ruled the incident an accident, but later retracted the statement, stating that, "his family has received new information from the Associated Press (AP) that contradicts many of the details presented in the Mexican press (particularly an article that appeared in La Cronica de Hoy) concerning the investigation."
Montaño’s body was discovered in an elevator shaft in an apartment building located in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, where he also lived.
AP confirmed in a report published earlier this month that although Montaño lived in the Condesa neighborhood, he did not live in the apartment building where his body was found. It is unclear what he was doing there before he died.
Photographs on various websites show the Condesa as an area of the metropolis that has a pleasant mix of colonial, Art Deco and modern architecture apartment buildings. Trip Advisor calls it the "SoHo of Mexico City." None of the sites mention any recent violent activity there.
Attempts to reach Montaño’s parents resulted in a relay to Paul Colford, AP’s Director of Media Relations, and Ellen Hale, the press center’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing. Colford said that AP was in touch with Mexican authorities conducting the investigation but again stressed that there was nothing to suggest his death was a result of his work as a journalist. Hale did not return requests for comment.
Concerns have been raised regarding the up-and-coming journalist given the strange circumstances in the manner or his death, but AP reports that Montaño was not on assignment at the time.
EDGE also contacted the Mexican authorities for comment, but did not receive any response as of press time. Calls to the U.S. Embassy were not returned, but other sources have stated that the government agency is closely following the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that since there were no reported links to Montaño’s death, the organization was not doing their own investigation. When asked about the fact that he was found in an elevator shaft, CPJ said they would continue to monitor the case, but would not be officially involved.
Montaño had been involved with journalism for several years. In 2008, he received two scholarships, one from the National Press Club and another from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. He was also named a Chips Quinn Scholar from the Freedom Forum for Diversity last year, according to the Associated Press.
He covered a wide range of stories, from the saga of nine elephants that ended up in the Mexican state of Puebla, to a recent shooting at Mexico City’s airport, which resulted in the deaths of three policemen. The young reporter was a class of 2012 graduate from Grinnell College. He also spent time interning for the New York Times covering the Iowa presidential caucuses earlier in 2012.
Montaño was well known for the dedication and passion in his work, and very much loved by his peers, as evidenced by quotes in the AP’s report on his death.
"If you are a journalist, take Mando’s legacy and tell the stories he would have," said Aaron Edwards, a friend who also served as a Chips Quinn Scholar with the Freedom Forum for Diversity in 2011, in the AP report.
While no authorities have called his death suspicious, it is not the first time this year that a journalist has died in Mexico. So far this year, five reporters have been killed and are currently listed on CPJ’s website with their deaths classified as "motive unconfirmed."
On June 13, a crime editor of the Mexican Newspaper Milenio, Víctor Manuel Báez Chino, was kidnapped from his home in Veracruz by at least three suspected members of a drug cartel. The CPJ also stated that a news outlet in Mexico received word from the country’s attorney general’s office confirming that a note was found with Chino’s body, reading, "This is what happens to traitors and those who act smart. Sincerely, the Zetas."
The Zeta Cartel is well known for its violent acts and its unidentified members, many of who are Mexican military deserters.
Since 1992, 62 news contributors have been killed in Mexico. Twenty-seven of those deaths have been classified as "motive confirmed" by the CPJ, making it the ninth-deadliest country for journalists.
Two scholarships have already been set up in honor of Montaño, an annual Armando Montaño Scholarship to help deserving students at the New York Times Student Journalism Institute move forward with their educational or professional ambitions, and a Grinnell College Scarlet & Black Fund.