A 20-year-old Mexican beauty queen has died in a gun battle between soldiers and the suspected drug traffickers she was travelling with.
The body of Maria Susana Flores Gamez was found on Saturday near an assault rifle on a rural road in a mountainous area of the drug-plagued state of Sinaloa, the chief state prosecutor said on Monday. It was unclear if she had used the gun.
"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout," said the state prosecutor, Marco Antonio Higuera.
Flores Gamez was voted Woman of Sinaloa 2012 in a beauty pageant in February. In June, the model lost out in the state beauty contest, the winner of which competes for the title Miss Mexico title, and the chance to represent the country in the international Miss Universe contest.
Higuera said Flores Gamez had been travelling in one of several vehicles that engaged soldiers in an hours-long chase and running gun battle on Saturday near her native city of Guamúchil in Sinaloa, home to Mexico's most powerful drug cartel. Higuera said two others were killed and four of the drug gang were detained.
The shootout began after the gunmen opened fire on a Mexican army patrol. They were cornered at a safehouse in the town of Mocorito. Some of the group escaped and the gunbattle continued along a nearby road, where the gang's vehicles were eventually stopped. Six vehicles, drugs and weapons were seized.
It was at least the third time a beauty queen or pageant contestants have been linked to Mexico's violent drug gangs. The theme was made the subject of a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, Miss Bala. Mexico's official submission to the best foreign language film category of this year's Academy Awards, it features a young woman competing for Miss Baja California who becomes an unwilling participant in a drug-running ring, finally getting arrested for deeds she was forced to perform.
In real life, former Miss Sinaloa Laura Zúñiga was stripped of her 2008 crown in the Reina Hispanoamerican pageant after being detained on suspicion of drug and weapons violations. She was later released without charge.
Zúñiga was detained in western Mexico in late 2010 along with seven men, some of them suspected drug traffickers. Authorities found a large stash of weapons, ammunition and $53,300 with them inside a vehicle.
In 2011, a Colombian former model and pageant contestant was detained along with José Jorge Balderas, an accused drug trafficker and suspect in the shooting in a bar in 2010 of Salvador Cabañas, a former star for Paraguay's national football team and Mexico's Club America. She was also later released.
Higuera said Flores Gamez's body has been given to relatives for burial.
"This is a sad situation," Higuera told a local radio station. She had been enrolled in media courses at a local university, and had been modelling and in pageants since at least 2009.
Javier Valdez, the author of a 2009 book about drugs ties to beauty pageants, entitled Miss Narco, said: "This is a recurrent story. There is a relationship, sometimes pleasant and sometimes tragic, between organised crime and the beauty queens, the pageants, the beauty industry itself.
"It is a question of privilege, power, money, but also a question of need," said Valdez. "For a lot of these young women, it is easy to get involved with organised crime, in a country that doesn't offer many opportunities for young people."
Sometimes drug traffickers seek out beauty queens, but sometimes the models themselves look for boyfriends among the narcotics gangs, Valdez said.
"I once wrote about a girl I knew of who was desperate to get a narco boyfriend," he said. "She practically took out a classified ad saying 'Looking for a Narco'."
The stories seldom end well. In the best of cases, a beautiful woman with a tear-stained face is marched before the press in handcuffs. In the worst of cases, they simply disappear.
"They are disposable objects, the lowest link in the chain of criminal organisations, the young men recruited as gunmen and the pretty young women who are tossed away in two or three years, or are turned in to police or killed," Valdez said.
Associated Press in Culiacán
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 November 2012 12.43 GMT