Twelve inmates described as “highly dangerous” tunnelled their way to freedom from the Cieneguillas prison in Zacatecas in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday.
The inmates, members of the Zetas and the Northeast Cartel, were serving sentences ranging from eight to 57 years for drug charges, robbery, kidnapping, firearms offenses and murder.
Prison authorities say they had likely spent the past five or six months digging the 50-meter tunnel, an endeavor that may have been easier to hide due to ongoing construction in that area of the prison.
The tunnel emerged just outside the prison fence, where the inmates piled into three waiting cars and sped off as a guard in one of the towers fired at them.
In 2009, 53 prisoners escaped Cieneguillas with the help of a convoy of cartel hitmen who entered the prison disguised as law enforcement.
The medium-security prison has also seen deadly riots in recent months. On December 31, 2019, 16 inmates were killed in a riot and on January 2 of this year an inmate was beaten to death with a metal door during a subsequent riot, after which 165 inmates were transferred to another prison for safety reasons and the prison’s director was fired.
The New York Times called it “one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the country’s troubled penal system for years.”
A full-scale search for the escaped inmates was underway Thursday morning. Helicopters were sweeping the area, bus stations were being watched and roadblocks had been set up on nearby highways. State police made one arrest when the prisoners swapped getaway cars farther down the road.
One police officer has been detained pending further investigation into his possible role in the escape. Prison guards are also being interrogated, prison authorities announced in a virtual press conference held hours after the escape.
Source: Reforma (sp)