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The toll booths at Las Cañas. The toll booths at Las Cañas.

Carjacking ordeal for tourists in Michoacán

Armed robbers took their vehicles and belongings on Siglo 21 highway

Details have emerged of a terrifying carjacking ordeal that a family of United States citizens endured in Michoacán earlier this month.

A couple from Santa Cruz, California, their three-year-old son and two parents were traveling on the Siglo 21 toll highway near Las Cañas on February 7 when their vehicle was intercepted by another at about 11:30am.

Four men armed with assault rifles then ordered the family to get out of their car and leave their cell phones, money and wallets behind, Lalita Kirkman told the newspaper the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“We were hijacked by four men with masks and AK-47s,” Kirkman said.

“They jumped in the car, leaving us in the middle of the highway with our son shoeless,” she added.

The thieves got away with the 2006 Honda Ridgeline in which the family was traveling along with a 1982 Jeep Willys that they were towing.

The family managed to hitch a ride back to nearby toll booths where they made several failed attempts to report the crime, Kirkman said. In the end, they were unable to get a case number from the Federal Police.

The Mexican-born Kirkman and her family were eventually able to get to her parents’ winter home in the north of Michoacán but with all their personal belongings stolen, their arrival there didn’t mean an end to their difficulties.

They subsequently traveled to Guadalajara, Jalisco, and went to the U.S. Consulate to apply for emergency passports so they could return home. After a long wait, the family was informed that the passports would cost US $400.

“All we had was a credit card my father gave us and they would not accept it because he wasn’t present,” Kirkman said.

She went on to criticize the consulate staff for demonstrating a lack of empathy with their situation.

“We got everything stolen. They just didn’t understand that . . . As American citizens we felt lost and stranded in a foreign country without help from the Mexican or American embassy,” she said.

Finally, a member of the family’s church community in the United States sent them the money they required to get the replacement passports and they returned home.

Back in Santa Cruz, they are still trying to file a formal report about the crime.

Kirkman and her husband Shug Kirkman own property in the coastal town of Troncones, Guerrero, and travel to Mexico every year, but are unlikely to return again any time soon.

An updated travel advisory issued by the United States Department of State last month warned against travel to both Guerrero and Michoacán.

The highway that the family was traveling on passes through both states and has a history of similar attacks and other violent crime.

About two weeks before the incident, the director of the state office of the federal Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) announced that 90 irregular access points on the road would be closed in order to stop the criminal activities.

Las Cañas

At a press conference, Florentino Coalla Pulido said that local residents argued that the access points were necessary to allow them to harvest their crops but he rejected the claim, asserting instead that “they are escape routes for criminals.”

On January 23, Coalla said that negotiations had already started with the highway operator to block off the access points but it is unclear whether the work had been completed when the February 7 incident occurred.

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (en), Quadratin (sp)

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