Mexico recovers bodies of priests and tour guide killed in church

The bodies of two Jesuit priests and a tour guide shot dead this week in a gang-ravaged area in northern Mexico have been found after a major search, authorities said Wednesday.

The three men were killed on Monday after an alleged altercation with a wanted drug trafficker in the border state of Chihuahua. The crime was quickly condemned by Pope Francis.

“We have found and recovered … the bodies of Jesuit priests Javier Campos, Joaquin Mora and tour guide Pedro Palma,” Chihuahua Governor Maria Eugenia Campos said in a video posted on social media.

Francis said he was shocked by the killings as authorities searched for the suspect.

“So many killings in Mexico,” Francis said at the end of his general audience before thousands in St. Peter’s Square.

The Chihuahua prosecutor’s office said the three men were killed after Palma took refuge in a church in the town of Cerocahui to protect himself from an attack.

The office named Jose Noriel Portillo Gil as a suspect in the murders and offered a reward of nearly $250,000 for information about his whereabouts.

The state said in 2018 that Portillo, who is also the prime suspect in the murder of American teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrews, was involved in drug trafficking.

The three bodies were taken from the church by a group of men in the back of a pick-up truck, Luis Gerardo Moro, leader of the religious order in Mexico, said in a radio interview.

The killings followed the abduction of four tourists from a nearby hotel, authorities told Reuters.

Among the missing is the wife of one of the murder victims, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, presumably referring to Palma.