The latest twist in the ‘Debanhi Escobar case’: Security camera footage – EL PAÍS in English

Entrance to Nueva Castilla motel, where the body of Debanhi Escobar was found on April 22.
Entrance to Nueva Castilla motel, where the body of Debanhi Escobar was found on April 22.JULIO CÉSAR AGUILAR

The investigation into the death of Debanhi Escobar, an 18-year-old student who was found dead on April 21 in the Mexican city of Monterrey, has taken another turn. Escobar’s body was discovered in a cistern of a motel, nearly three weeks after her disappearance. Now video footage from the Nueva Castilla motel may provide clues as to what happened the morning of April 9, when she disappeared.

Authorities had initially said the motel’s security cameras only recorded in real-time and did not store any footage. But on Sunday night, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the state of Nuevo León showed the family three videos taken from the cameras. The recordings allegedly show Escobar entering the premises of the motel alone and walking inside the building. On Monday, Escobar’s father, Mario Escobar, said that the 18-year-old is seen twice in the footage, but did not provide further details. “That’s all I can say because it’s all that is seen and I can’t tell lies,” he said.

The sudden appearance of these videos, 16 days after Escobar’s disappearance, has raised more questions about the investigation, which has been questioned by both the victim’s family and Mexico’s National Search Commission.

When Escobar’s body was found on April 21, the Nuevo León Prosecutor’s Office unofficially claimed that the young woman had accidentally fallen into the cistern – a version that is supported by the video footage. But this narrative has been rejected by the family. “We are sure it was a murder,” Mario Escobar said Saturday at his daughter’s wake.

Entrance to the Botanero 15 1/2 restaurant, from inside Nueva Castilla motel, now sealed by the Prosecutor's Office.
Entrance to the Botanero 15 1/2 restaurant, from inside Nueva Castilla motel, now sealed by the Prosecutor’s Office.
JULIO CÉSAR AGUILAR

This newspaper was able to confirm that it would have been difficult for Escobar to reach the cistern by foot, as suggested by the Prosecutor’s Office. The motel is surrounded by a yellow wall – crowned with barbed wire – and the only entrance leads directly to reception, which is open 24 hours, according to motel workers. Escobar allegedly walked the first paved section of the route: footage from a camera facing that entrance identifies her there at 4.36am. But from that point, all access points are closed off. A white fence and a parking barrier block the two entrances to the buildings with the rooms, and a high wall separates reception from the area where the cistern and an empty pool are located.

To reach the cistern, one needs to go through a restaurant called Botanero 15 1/2, which has been closed for years. Workers at the motel who alerted authorities to the smell coming from the cistern said that the pool area had not been used for six years.

In an interview with Mexican newspaper Reforma, deputy prosecutor Luis Enrique Orozco said that the video footage shows Escobar walking alone through the restaurant and later in the pool area, where she approaches the cistern. “In the last image we have, she is seen walking along the side of the fence next to where her remains were found,” he said.

Escobar allegedly followed this route by herself and without anyone noticing, even though it is fully lit by street lighting and the motel’s lights.

The garden and pool area where the cistern is located. On the left, El Botanero restaurant, which has been closed for several years, and in the background, the wall that separates this area from the hotel reception.
The garden and pool area where the cistern is located. On the left, El Botanero restaurant, which has been closed for several years, and in the background, the wall that separates this area from the hotel reception.JULIO CÉSAR AGUILAR

Holes in the case

Escobar disappeared in the early hours of April 8-9 in the municipality of Escobedo after attending a party. She went to a venue called Quinta Diamante with two other women at 1.20am. After a fight, the two women leave and ask a driver they trust to pick up Escobar. The driver is the last person to see her alive.

According to prosecutor Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero, the man has been cooperating with the investigation. He has been questioned multiple times, and his taxi has been checked, but no evidence has been found.

However, Mario Escobar stated that there were videos from inside the car which showed the driver trying to touch Debanhi’s breasts, which could have prompted her to leave the vehicle and explain why she was on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway at 4.30am, where her cell phone was last registered.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that cameras from the Alcosa transportation company placed her at the entrance at 4.30am trying to ask an employee for help “without success.”

Until Sunday, authorities had no explanation for how the young woman had reached the motel, arguing that the establishment did provide security camera footage. “Since the start of the investigation, we have been asking them for the videos but they don’t record them,” said Guerrero the day Escobar’s body was found. Nor were they able to explain the sudden appearance of the footage nearly a month after Escobar’s disappearance.

“Now we have to establish why it took so many days, what happened, who was negligent,” said Mario Escobar. “We want this to be clarified, we want the truth to be told.”

The Prosecutor’s Office said the young woman died from a severe blow to the head; but Mario Escobar, at his daughter’s funeral, claimed she was badly beaten and suffocated. “I will not stop until justice is done,” he said.

The investigation has now been passed to the Specialized Femicide Prosecutor’s Office, which will review the case and the findings so far. Escobar’s family has not ruled out exhuming the body, in case a second autopsy is necessary.

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