Prosecutor: Weekend massacre in Mexico possible revenge act

FILE - In this Jan. 2, 2019 file photo, Mexican police climb up a set of stairs of a dilapidated building during a shootout with a group of armed criminals in Acapulco, Mexico. Officials say homicides in Mexico rose by 9.7% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period of 2018. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday, April 22, 2019, that he wants to reduce violence through social programs and a new militarized police force known as the National Guard. (AP Photo/Bernardindo Hernandez, File)

XALAPA, Mexico — Thirteen people killed in a weekend shooting in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz appear to have been victims of an act of revenge between criminal groups, authorities said Monday.

State prosecutor Jorge Winckler said five or six gunmen entered a packed events hall where a birthday was being celebrated and went directly to the guests at one table.

Among the victims at that table was bar owner Julio César González Reyna, known as "La Becky," who authorities believe was the target. Witnesses told authorities that just before opening fire one of the attackers said, "You don't mess with this."

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office Dec. 1 promising to reduce violence, but killings have grown during his four months in office.

Homicides in Mexico rose 9.7% in the first quarter of 2019 from a year earlier, reaching 8,493 killings in the first three months of the year, the most on record for the period, according to figures released Monday by the nation's Security Department.

López Obrador wants to reduce violence through social programs and a new militarized police force known as the National Guard. He says effects should be felt in about six months.

Speaking in Veracruz state Monday, López Obrador said that Mexico is "starting to stabilize, so that violence won't continue to grow at the same rate." But, he added, "it's going to take some time."

The rate at which homicides are increasing did appear to slow somewhat in March. Homicides were up 11% in January and 16% in February from the previous year, but rose only 2.7% in March.

The violence also has reached parts of Mexico that were traditionally more peaceful, like the north-central state of Guanajuato, which has been ravaged by killings by fuel theft gangs and the brutal Jalisco cartel. Homicides in Guanajuato rose 28% in the first quarter, to reach 947.

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