Ricardo Flores’ goal was to study hard, become a lawyer and earn enough so that his parents could return from the United States — the destination of multitudes from this impoverished corner of south-central Mexico.
“Ricardo always said that once he was working, he was going to tell my mom to come back, because he missed her so much,” recalled his younger brother, Jose Guadalupe Flores, 16.
That dream came to a violent end one afternoon last month after rumors began circulating on social media and the WhatsApp messaging service that a pair of robachicos , or child robbers, were on the prowl .
An enraged mob attacked Flores, 21, and his uncle, Alberto Flores Morales, 56, savagely beating them before dousing them with gasoline and burning them alive on the street outside the police station here. The pair had been mistakenly suspected of child abduction, authorities said.
“It was like a great spell had overtaken the people,” said Lidia Palacios, a handicrafts shopkeeper who witnessed the linchamiento, o r lynching, as such mob killings are known in Mexico. “They were yelling, ‘Kill them! Kill them!’”
The barbaric episode — reminiscent of mob killings in India fueled by viral messages — illustrates how in an era of proliferating smartphone use, rumors looped on social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp can generate hysteria and vigilante justice.
Mob attacks are nothing new in Mexico, where rampant crime, ineffective policing and a pervasive sense that lawbreakers go unpunished fuel citizen outrage. Cellphone video of townsfolk pummeling cornered suspects accused of robberies and other misdeeds is a regular feature on TV news.
At least 25 people have been slain by mobs in Mexico this year, including victims beaten to death and burned, and 40 more have been rescued, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, a quasi-governmental watchdog […]