Jose Luis Gutierrez had been driving for hours when he decided to pull over Sunday night and sleep for a few hours before continuing his drive towards Arandas in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
Gutierrez, 52, didn’t want to risk getting into a car accident, especially since his 19-year-old daughter, Sofia, and his 85-year-old father, Jose de Jesus, were also in the car. Gutierrez was travelling from west suburban Aurora to visit family in Mexico for the holidays.
But before they could rest, they were attacked by several men with guns. The men beat them, stole their vehicle and took all of their belongings. Sofia and her grandfather were left in the middle of the highway around 3 a.m. Monday morning.
The attackers tortured Gutierrez and shot him three times before dropping him off in a different area, Gutierrez’ wife said at a Tuesday press conference. He was taken to the hospital in Zacatecas, Mexico where he underwent surgery. He is recovering in the intensive care unit.
Gutierrez’s wife, Alejandra Gomez, recounted the harrowing events at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Chicago. She has been working with attorney Manuel Cardenas and the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to bring her husband and daughter back.
Gomez said she’s afraid her family is still in danger. She said hospital employees told her that several women have tried to impersonate her in an effort to get information about her husband.
“We’re a united family,” Gomez said. “We’re a hard working family. It’s so unfair. I can’t believe this happened before Christmas and my birthday, because we don’t deserve it.”
Cardenas said the family was targeted. He said the attackers probably followed family from the U.S.-Mexico border to the area where they were attacked.
Gutierrez and Gomez have been married for 28 years. They live in Aurora with their three children, including the 19-year-old who was also attacked. Gutierrez works in landscaping. He was traveling to Mexico to visit his mother. Along the way, Gutierrez and his daughter drove to Texas and picked up his father.
Gomez first learned about the attack in a phone call with her 19-year-old daughter Monday night. Gomez said her daughter and husband are in shock. She wants to bring them back as soon as possible.
Marlen Acosta with LULAC said the organization will be helping the family and will start a fundraising campaign. Acosta said the family will need help because Gutierrez was the main breadwinner and one of his knees is badly damaged.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Dec. 17, 2019, for Americans traveling to Mexico.
“Exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime and kidnapping. Some areas have increased risk,” according to the advisory. “Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread.”
Typically, hundreds of Mexican immigrants from the Chicago region drive to Mexico during the holidays.
Cardenas said immigrants traveling to Mexico should be extremely careful. Gutierrez and his family were attacked on a Mexican highway that didn’t require a toll. In Mexico, those free highways are considered to be dangerous, Cardenas explained. There are also highways that require a fee or toll that are typically guarded by local police or the military.
“It is important, if you do travel to Mexico, that you do use the toll [roads] or the guarded routes that they have. The free routes are less safe,” Cardenas said. “If you do have to travel, travel with extreme caution and make sure someone here knows where you’re at at all times.”
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.