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NY Post
New York Post
21 Oct 2023


NextImg:The Mexican drug cartel kidnapped my daughter and I dared to fight back

On Sunday morning on March 27, 2016, Miriam Rodriguez was hiding and holding a loaded .38 pistol near the Matamoros International Bridge, which links Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas.

Wearing a baseball cap and trench coat, the 56-year-old mother-of-three was waiting for a member of the feared Zeta drug cartel known only as “The Florist. “

Two years prior, he had been one of 11 men involved in the kidnapping of her then 20-year-old daughter Karen. Now, Miriam was out for justice — and revenge.

Spotting the Florist near some street vendors, Miriam pulled her gun and seized the moment. She grabbed his shirt and jammed the pistol into his back.

“’If you move, I’ll f–king shoot you,’ she said, going on to hold him at gunpoint and perform a citizen’s arrest until police arrived.

The Matamoros International Bridge links Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas.
AFP via Getty Images

Author Azam Ahmed portrays this dramatic scene in the his new book “Fear Is Just A Word – A Missing Daughter, a Violent Cartel, and a Mother’s Quest for Vengeance” (Random House). It tells the story of how, for years, Miriam relentlessly pursued the men who had taken her daughter.

It’s also the tale of how drugs, violence and lawlessness can all but take over a country, leaving its citizens to take the law into their own hands, just as Miriam did. 

“Criminals thrived on the permissiveness that fear allowed; she was a one-woman example of how things might be different,” writes Ahmed. “Miriam had said that fear was just a word. To the Zetas, it was much more than that.”

Miriam first learned of her daughter’s kidnapping when she was living and working as a housekeeper for a pair of doctors in McAllen, Texas, after she split up with husband, Luis, and moved north.

Her daughter, Karen, remained behind and ran the family’s cowboy store, Rodeo Boots, in San Fernando.

The former cattle-ranching town had become infamous in 2010 when the Zeta, having split from the Gulf Cartel crime syndicate, killed 72 migrants in the so-called “San Fernando Massacre.” In 2011, they kidnapped and butchered 192 people at La Joya ranch in the town.

Karen Rodriguez was kidnapped in January of 2014.

On January 24, 2014, they struck the Rodriguez family. At 4 a.m. that morning, Miriam got a call from her eldest daughter, Azalea, telling her that Karen had been taken.

The kidnappers had called Karen’s father, demanding a ransom of 1 million pesos (around $77,000), payable by 3 p.m. the following day for her safe return. 

Then they put his daughter on the line, as Ahmed writes. “‘If you pay them, they will let me go’ Karen said. ‘If not, then I guess this is goodbye.'” 

Soon after, the kidnappers called Miriam in Texas, outlining their demands again. 

Miriam dropped everything, left a note for her employers, and returned immediately to San Fernando.

San Fernando became infamous in 2010 when the Zeta, having split from the Gulf Cartel crime syndicate, killed 72 migrants in the so-called “San Fernando Massacre.”
AFP via Getty Images

The next morning, meanwhile, Luis headed to the bank to empty their savings account and arrange a loan for the remainder of the ransom.

But when they dropped the money off, as arranged, there was no sign of Karen. “As the hours passed and darkness fell over San Fernando, an unspoken fear began to seize each of them,” writes Ahmed. 

“What if Karen wasn’t coming back?”

The fact that Miriam and Luis had paid the ransom with such speed had led the kidnappers to reconsider. 

“If you paid too quickly, sometimes the kidnappers might try to renegotiate the deal, figuring they had left money on the table,” Ahmed writes. “But the family had taken a loan and emptied their savings and had nothing left to give.”

A stockpile of weapons was seized at the ranch where the migrants’ bodies were found.
REUTERS

Sure enough, in the days that followed, the kidnappers called Miriam demanding more money. She even met with men purporting to be the group’s leaders, who said they could give Karen back if she just gave them some more “pocket change” payments of $1,600 and $400.

Again, Miriam paid up.

Again, Karen didn’t return.

On the one-month anniversary of Karen’s disappearance, Miriam resigned herself to never seeing her daughter again, not least because there were over 70,000 people registered missing in Mexico and the police simply weren’t interested in helping.

Alleged members of the Zeta cartel were accused of committing the San Fernando massacre.
AFP via Getty Images

“[Miriam] said that Karen was never coming home, at least not in the way [she] had once hoped, because Karen, her youngest, was dead,” writes Ahmed. 

“There was no self-pity in her voice, no tears or currents of pain spread across her face. She stood for a moment, choosing her words. ‘For the rest of my life, with the time that I have, I’m going to find the people who did this to my daughter,’ Miriam vowed. ‘And I’m going to make them pay.’”

Miriam had a history of fighting crime. In 1989, she had tracked down thieves who had ransacked her husband’s safe and recovered all the missing items.  On another occasion, Miriam had personally intervened to ensure the safety of her other daughter’s husband when he was threatened by gangs, paying the small ransom to make the problem go away.

“Miriam’s children had often teased their mother that she secretly wanted to be a cop but wasn’t corrupt enough to qualify,” writes Ahmed.

With the help of Luis, Miriam spent two years hunting down Karen’s kidnappers, setting traps for them and relying on law enforcement agencies only when she was sure that they would be arrested.

On the one-month anniversary of Karen’s disappearance, Miriam resigned herself to never seeing her daughter again, not least because there were over 70,000 people registered missing in Mexico and the police simply weren’t interested in helping.
Alamy Stock Photo

Using a range of disguises and fake IDs, she helped to apprehend all 11 of the abductors and, faced with apathetic, corrupt or incompetent authorities, also formed “Colectivo de Desaparecidos de San Fernando” (The Vanished Collective), a support group for 600 other families looking to find their missing relatives.

In 2015, after a tip-off from an 18-year-old local, Miriam finally learned that Karen was dead, her remains buried on a remote, abandoned ranch. 

There, on the property, was a house riddled with bullet holes and a noose hanging from a tree. 

Miriam found Karen’s scarf and a bone later identified as part of Karen’s femur.

By the time she nabbed the Florist in 2016, every one of Karen abductors had been brought to justice. Four were in prison awaiting trial while another six were dead, killed in a raid by Mexican marines. But, the mother’s relentless digging ultimately infuriated the Zeta cartel. 

Miriam was killed in 2017, presumably by the cartel.
Miriam Rodriguez/Facebook

On the night of May 10, 2017, Miriam left work at her store and drove home.

She was on crutches — she’d broken her foot chasing a former prostitute with connections to the Zetas — so she struggled to get out of her car. As she stepped onto the street, two men emerged from a white Nissan truck parked nearby, carrying 9 millimeter pistols. 

“They fired thirteen rounds at Miriam, hitting her eight times,” writes Ahmed.

Her son, Luis Hector, heard the shots from inside their home and came outside screaming his mother’s name.

He found her lying facedown on the ground, just six feet from the car. Her hand was inside her purse, where she kept her pistol.

Miriam was taken to the hospital, where she died hours later. It was Mother’s Day 2016.

Ahmed notes she always knew the risks involved in her pursuit of justice.

“Miriam knew that if someone wanted to kill her, they could,” he writes. “Fear was something she could countenance, had learned to suppress and ignore … To some extent, so was death.”