On Monday night, Mexican social media star Juan Luis Lagunas Rosales – a.k.a. "El Pirata de Culiacán" was shot and killed inside a bar in Zapopan, Jalisco.
Rosales, a 17-year-old who found fame posting clips of himself drinking heavily, was reportedly attacked by several heavily armed individuals. His death comes several weeks after he made a video insulting Rubén Oseguera Cervantes – alias "El Mencho" – the 51-year-old boss of the country's fastest-growing and deadliest cartel, the Jalisco Nueva Generación.
Mexican authorities have yet to confirm the motive for the crime or whether the cartel was involved.
Here, Rolling Stone explains what we know about Rosales and El Mencho, and the rumors of how the cartel murdered a viral sensation.
Who is Juan Luis Lagunas Rosales?
Rosales was born in Navolato, Sinaloa, roughly a 90-minute drive to the hometown of notorious Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, according to El Pais. At age 15, Rosales moved in with his grandmother into the Sinaloa capital of Culiacán, where he started sharing his drinking bouts on social media. His comedic flavor and excessive drinking habits made him popular with Mexican regional groups, which invited him to appear in their music videos.
This summer, after getting arrested for underage drinking in a Tijuana nightclub, Rosales admitted to reporters that he was an alcoholic and claimed that he wanted to get clean to pursue a career in music. He mentioned signing a contract with Cash Records. "I want to learn to sing now, that's going to be my motto," he told Univision Entertainment producer Pepe Garza.
As of this week, Rosales had over 34,000 followers on Twitter, 281,000 on Instagram and 1 million via Facebook. In his most recent posts, the chubby, clean-shaven teenager sports black cap and shows off his arm tattoos, often standing beside Latina women in restaurants and barber shops. He had a crude flamboyance about him, wearing floral button-downs and painted-on mustaches, gripping cans of beer and guns.
Who is Rubén Oseguera Cervantes?
In Rolling Stone's "The Brutal Rise of El Mencho," Josh Eells writes that Cervantes is a state policeman-turned-leader of the the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación.
Cervantes's CJNG emerged less than a decade ago in Mexico, growing apart from the Sinaloa, the Knights Templar, and Los Zetas organizations. The cartel has since been linked to brutal mass murders. In 2011, operatives dumped 35 tortured bodies into the streets of Veracruz, a port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Two years later, they raped and killed a 10-year-old girl, setting her on fire because they believed she was the daughter of a rival cartel leader. (She wasn't.) "We've seen it become very bloody, and a lot of people attribute that to El Mencho himself," Scott Stewart, a senior cartel analyst at Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, told Eells. "Wherever they try to muscle in, it creates bodies." Arrests and turf wars have weakened cartels, but infighting inspires violence. In 2016, following the recapture of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the country recorded 20,000 killings, a 20 percent rise in the homicide rate. The CJNG is linked to thousands of such murders. Globally, the CJNG has established drug trafficking routes across six continents by selling low-cost methamphetamine – rather than higher-prices cocaine and heroin – in Asian and European markets, which allowed them to amass over $20 billion in sales.
Authorities have few photos of the elusive El Mencho today. Still, narco groups sing about his enthusiasm for motorbikes and cockfights. "Over 25 years of working in Mexico, you'd run into guys who had met Chapo, would would talk about him," a former DEA agent told Eells. "But with Mencho, you don't hear that. He's kind of a ghost."
What happened at the bar in Jalisco?
Witnesses are telling Mexican police that Rosales was targeted at the bar Mentados Cantaros, local newspapers reported, according to the IBTimes. Either four or five individuals – the information differs depending on the media outlet – were seen in a black truck, before shooting 15 bullets in the bar, killing Rosales and injuring the manager, who remains in serious condition at a nearby hospital.
In an El Diario report, police claimed that it was four people with "long weapons" who entered the bar and walked directly to Rosales' table and shot him dead. Rosales's recent videos show him inviting fans to join him for drinks in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, a hub for the drug trade.
How did Rosales insult the Jalisco Nueva Generacion?
Though police have not yet confirmed cartel involvement, news reporters and social media users are already linking Rosales's death with a recent video of him ridiculing El Mencho, in which he says, "El Mencho a mí me pela la verga" or "El Mencho, peel my cock," according to El Pais. (A common insult, it's essentially the verbal equivalent of a dismissive jack-off motion.) Not a smart thing to say about a man "who'll execute your whole family based on not much more than a rumor" as a source told Eells. "He just has zero regard for human life." But what about free speech? It doesn’t exist to the cartels, which have been linked to the murder of at least 12 journalists this past year.
On Twitter, the newspaper Periodico Supremo reposted the clip and commented, "Asi firmo su trato de muerte" or "Thus signed his deal of death." Many fans continue to post condolences for Rogales, though some have said that he should have known better than to insult the notoriously violent cartel leader so openly.