Mexican authorities say suspect in killings of priests, American believed dead
MEXICO CITY, March 22 (Reuters) - Mexican authorities said on Wednesday the top suspect in the killings of two Jesuit priests and a tour guide last year as well as the murder of an American teacher in 2018 was believed to be dead.
The body thought to be that of Jose Noriel Portillo Gil, also known as "El Chueco," was found Tuesday evening, though DNA confirmation is still pending, prosecutor Cesar Jauregui told a news conference.
Portillo's sister confirmed the body, found with a gunshot wound to the head, belonged to the suspect, Jauregui added.
The accused drug trafficker's suspected murders of the priests and tour guide sparked a manhunt through the gang-ravaged area of northern Mexico. Pope Francis saying he was shocked by the killings.
The three were killed after the tour guide, Pedro Palma, took refuge in a church in the town of Cerocahui, in the state of Chihuahua, to protect himself from an attack, authorities had said.
State prosecutors had offered five million Mexican pesos, or nearly $270,000, for information on Portillo's whereabouts.
The slayings came almost three years after Portillo was accused of killing an American Spanish-language teacher, Patrick Braxton-Andrew, who traveled to the area to hike in Chihuahua's Copper Canyon.
Authorities allege Portillo, a known member of the Sinaloa Cartel, ran the gang's operations in the area, trafficking drugs and carrying out kidnappings, extortions and demanding bribery payments from mining companies.
As his body was discovered in the neighboring state of Sinaloa, prosecutors there will handle the investigation into his death, Jauregui said.
The Sinaloa prosecutor's office did not respond to a request for comment regarding suspects in the case.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.