A Utah couple traveling in Mexico with the woman’s 12-year-old son were shot dead early Thursday in front of the boy at an apparent roadblock in a region known for high crime and travel advisories, according to media reports.
Paul D. Nielsen, 52, and Janeth Vázquez, 43, were “intercepted by a group of armed men” around 4 a.m. in the state of Guerrero as they drove from Acapulco to the beach resort town of Zihuatanejo, according to the Mexico City news outlet Reforma.
The couple were shot after the men took their car, the outlet reports.
State police admitted the 12-year-old, Kevin Joel Rojas, to a hospital with injuries that “do not put his life at risk,” according to authorities.
Police reconstructed the events based on the child’s account, and said the couple was attacked after refusing to stop at a checkpoint, reports the Mexican news outlet SDP Noticias.
According to a “do not travel” advisory on the U.S. Department of State website, “Armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers. U.S. government employees may not travel to the entire state of Guerrero, including Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, and Taxco.”
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Nielsen’s family confirmed his death in a GoFundMe post by his sister, Rose Nielsen Naylor, who wrote: “My brother Paul was killed in Mexico today 7/18/19. We are trying to raise enough money to help his family in anyway they need. It is going to be a huge ordeal bringing his body back to the US and any amount will help.”
Another of Nielsen’s sisters, Vilate Ssempala, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the roadblock Nielsen and Vazquez encountered had been set up by a local gang to extort travelers, and that the mortuary handling her brother’s body described the injuries as execution-style gunshots to their faces.
Nielsen was a Salt Lake County native who co-owned a water softener company with one of his brothers, the Tribune reports. Vázquez reportedly is originally from Puebla, Mexico.
“In regard to the tragic death of Mr. Paul Nielsen and his wife in Guerrero, Mexico, the consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City conveys its deepest condolences to their family and friends and, above all, to their son, for their irreparable loss,” Jose Borjon, consul of Mexico in Salt Lake City, said in a statement to TV station KUTV.
“This incident is currently under investigation by Mexican authorities,” the statement continued. “The district attorney in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, is following all possible leads to bring those responsible to justice.”