Mexican authorities are investigating why a band that performed love songs was kidnapped and killed by gunmen, who dumped their bodies in a well in the drug cartel-infested north.
The killings underscored yet again the pervasiveness of Mexico's grisly drug violence, which has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the launch of a military crackdown on the powerful, feuding cartels in 2006.
Authorities said late Tuesday they had pulled 17 corpses from a desert well in the northern state of Nuevo Leon since Sunday, with 14 confirmed so far as members of Kombo Kolombia.
The band's 14 musicians and four roadies were snatched in the middle of a party early Friday in the town of Hidalgo. One member managed to escape his captors and led police to the gruesome site in the nearby town of Mina.
Musicians have fallen victim to Mexico's relentless drug war before, but those killed in the past usually performed songs that glorify the exploits of drug lords, a popular style known as "narcocorridos."
This latest slaying is unusual because Kombo Kolombia specialized in vallenato, fast-paced folk music from Colombia, and performed romantic songs with lyrics unrelated to the drug trade.
Jorge Domene, the spokesman for Nuevo Leon state security, said Tuesday that investigators were "still gathering information that can guide us to the real cause" of the murders.
A source close to the investigation said the prosecutor's office was looking into any links the musicians may have had with the Zetas, an ultra-violent drug cartel founded by former special forces soldiers.
The Zetas control some of the sites where Kombo Kolombia played, according to the source, who said the killers might have been members of the rival Sinaloa cartel.
Relatives of band members denied that the group had any criminal links.
"My son was a good boy, a percussionist. He had nothing to do with anything illegal," Maria Saenz, the mother of one victim, told reporters.
Kombo Kolombia had performed in a building rented out for parties when they were kidnapped. There were some 50 people present when the gunmen barged in and hustled the band members into waiting vehicles.
All of the Kombo Kolombia members were Mexican aside from the Colombian-born keyboardist, Heiner Cuellar, whose body police retrieved from the well.
The bullet-riddled bodies showed signs of torture. The captives' pants had been pulled down to the knees, presumably to keep them from escaping.
The northern border state of Nuevo Leon is one of the states hardest hit by the wave of murders, kidnappings and extortion in Mexico's drug war.
Some 50 "narcocorrido" performers have been killed in the past six years, said Edmundo Perez, author of the book "Let Me Be Buried With Narcocorridos."
Like the American gangsta rappers of the 1990s, such performers often live in close proximity to drug lords who patronize them, and can occasionally get caught up in gang turf battles.
One of the most famous victims was Valentin Elizalde, a popular singer who counted drug traffickers among his fans and was shot dead in November 2006 in the northeastern city of Reynosa, the turf of the Gulf cartel.
Drug lords can pay a singer $5,000 to $10,000 to write a song in their honor, Perez said, but then he can become a target for rivals.
"When they become famous, they start inviting them to parties, and the artist knows that he can't say no," he said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]