Authorities in the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas confirmed on Wednesday that a U.S. resident was among four people killed in the state around Christmas. The state prosecutors’ office confirmed the identity of the man as José Melesio Gutiérrez.
The man’s employer, the Cincinnati, Ohio, firm Champlin Architecture, said in a social media post that Gutiérrez “died tragically while visiting his fiancée, Daniela Pichardo, in Mexico during the holidays.”
Gutiérrez, his fiancée, her sister and a cousin left in a car on Christmas to visit a nearby town. Their remains were found in January in a pit.
It was not clear if Gutiérrez was a U.S. citizen.
Local media reported that Gutiérrez was in Mexico to set a date for the wedding and that there were indications a criminal gang had been operating around the ranch where the bodies were found.
The van that the four victims were using was found with bullet holes and blown tires, TV Azteca reported.
Zacatecas has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco and Sinaloa drug cartels. The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel to be “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.”
Zacatecas, which has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in Mexico, is a key transit point for drugs moving north to the U.S. border, especially the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl.
The U.S. State Department includes Zacatecas on its “Do not travel to” advisory for Americans due to ongoing crime and abductions.
“Violent crime, extortion, and gang activity are widespread in Zacatecas state,” the advisory says.
In the Facebook post, Champlin Architecture, Gutiérrez’s employer, said it would create a scholarship in his name. “We will all miss him more than words can express,” the company said. “Champlin Architecture will be creating a scholarship in his name at Miami University, in order to honor his impact to our firm and the community. We will share details once this has been established.”