JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Even as they face mounting international pressure to solve the crime, Juarez authorities say they still don’t have a suspect in custody — or even a motive — for Saturday’s murder of an artist and women’s rights advocate.
Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre, 26, was shot to death by an unknown assailant while riding her bicycle home early Saturday. She was a mural painter, clothing designer and participated in a number of women’s rights organizations.
This week, the United Nations Women’s Organization and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) called on Mexican authorities to conduct a swift and impartial investigation into her murder.
“This crime takes place amid a context of serious violence against women in Mexico, where female human rights advocates are especially vulnerable because of their work,” the IACHR said in a series of tweets this week. The agency, using the hashtag #JusticiaParaIsabel (Justice for Isabel) called on Mexico to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders and address the risk factors of women, in particular.
“We urge Mexico to investigate, exhaustively and with sensibility toward her gender, the murder of women’s rights activist Isabel Cbanillas so that her murder will not go unpunished,” added UN Women.
In Juarez and in other parts of Mexico, activists have also taken to the streets demanding justice. Hundreds of people marched on Sunday to the Juarez Monument Park for a memorial. On Tuesday night, a protest was reported in Mexico City.
Yadira Cortes, a spokeswoman for Red Mesa de Mujeres (Women’s Roundtable Network), said Cabanillas’ death has the Juarez activism community reeling.
“She represents us because she is someone who raised her voice for justice, for the prevention of violence against women and for the opportunity to do community building through culture (and art),” Cortes said. “Her murder has refocused attention on the fact that women are constantly being murdered in this community.”
Cabanillas’ parents tasked the group with representing them before the press and the authorities.
“She was a young woman who was empowered and who wanted to succeed in all aspects of life,” Cortes said. “Her main instrument was art, but she participated in marches and (lobbied) for the prevention of crimes against women. She was dedicated to her work and her son … now her son is an orphan and Isabel is part of the long list of women who have been murdered in Juarez.”
The group monitors violence against women in Juarez. Last year it recorded 180 murders against women, a 71 percent increase over 2018. Cabanillas was the fifth woman murdered in 2020, but the same day her body was found, another woman was killed on Juarez Avenue, the street that leads to the Paso del Norte port of entry to El Paso, Texas.
The group is working with the Crimes Against Women unit of the Chihuahua State Police, making sure leads are followed and witnesses are interviewed.
Cortes said police still don’t know what happened after Cabanillas left a Downtown bar where fellow artists and activists gathered and began heading home on her bike sometime after 2 a.m. on Saturday. Police reported finding her body two blocks north just before 3 a.m. Next to her lay her bicycle and two spent bullet casings.
Border Report on Wednesday spoke to a neighbor who lives half a block away from the spot and says her entire family heard the gunshots.
“We all heard a very loud pop. About 20 seconds later we heard a second pop, also very loud. My neighbor heard it, too. None of us went to look because we were afraid,” said the neighbor, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals.
The resident said this is the third murder that’s taken place near the corner of Madero and Ochoa streets in the past six months.
“Last year one of our neighbors was killed in an argument over a dog. Three weeks ago, some people dumped a dead body just down the street,” the resident said.
The woman said her neighbors believe Cabanillas may have been the victim of a failed abduction.
“It wasn’t a robbery because they didn’t take her bicycle. Somebody was following her, maybe because she was a young woman and alone, or maybe for some other reason,” the neighbor told Border Report.
The activist died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, according to authorities. Her fellow activists placed a pink cross with black letters on the spot where she fell.
The bar from where Cabanillas came out is located less than a block from Avenida 16 de Septiembre, which is as close to being Main Street as any avenue here comes. Hundreds of cars drive by from the time the first businesses open to the minute the last bars close.
Asked about the neighbors’ assertions, Cortes said Cabanillas was an “empowered and assertive” young woman who likely would have told-off anyone who tried to harass her. But she refused to speculate on a motive without giving authorities a chance to do a thorough investigation.
“Our concern is that there are no specific policies to prevent violence against women here. Our streets have no lighting at night, no patrols and no security. Bad things happen because of the environment of impunity, of (criminals) not being caught or not given a strong sentence,” she said, adding that Casillas was killed a block away from a so-called “Women’s Safety Corridor.”
“That corridor has been good for nothing,” she said, breaking into tears shortly after.