[EYE WITNESS REPORT] The Tragic Shooting At the Elrow BPM Closing Party at the Blue Parrot Nightclub in Playa Del Carmen

This reporter was on-site at the event during the horrific events that occurred and what it means for BPM.
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Masha Lukashenko
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This reporter was on-site at the event during the horrific events that occurred and what it means for BPM.

My friends and I have been anticipating attending our first BPM Festival since we decided to go earlier in the Fall of last year. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to do some coverage of the event, as well as attend on behalf of one of the artists performing on Sunday (my day job). Arriving on Wednesday, January 11th with plans to stay in Mexico until, Wednesday, January 18th, the festival was nothing short of fun and each party was pumping and left my friends and I happily exhausted. 

The horrific events that unfolded this past Sunday were a tragic and awful example of the negative aspects of the music world we so much love, especially in regions with poor municipal and authoritative control. During the entire week in Mexico attending all those parties, the one thing that shocked me the most was how open drug dealing was at various parties and even on the streets. I was warned about being cautious with open drug usage because of the police and their track record of extorting tourists. At the nightclub, Santanera, a security guard searched a bag and found something (of an illegal substance) and simply asked for pay-off (I believe it was 200 pesos). 

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The most anticipated party for me was Elrow, and considering all the buzz they have been getting for the last year and a half, I was beyond excited to finally go to an Elrow party. We even left earlier than usual so that we could catch some of De La Swing's set and we did.  We were at the Blue Parrot as early as 12AM and were having a great time, by 1AM the place was crowded to a degree where it would have taken you at least 15 minutes to get to the bathrooms by the entrance (they had no lines versus the ones by the bar) and probably another 15 to get back to your group. 

Around 2:38 AM (I only remember because I was wondering how soon before Technasia will be on), I heard the "pop pop" sounds go off loud enough that you can hear them distinctly even though the music was blasting. I remember my first instinct was to look behind me at the sky, expecting to see bright lights from fireworks. The "pop pop" continued and there seemed to be a change in the crowd, where those towards the back and the exit were no longer bouncing but had dropped to the ground. The DJs (Sydney Charles & Sante) were also unsure what was happening because the music was being lowered and then brought back up.

As the screaming began to increase and the crowd was starting to get frantic, the music was now lowered until they speakers were off. There was a clear amount of confusion around me and I could see it on my husband's face as I began to implore him to get down with me. We were far enough from the entrance that we were out of harm's way, but not from the impending stampede that was heading in our direction as we heard a scream and shouts of, "THERE'S A GUN"! My first fear at that moment was 'imagine if there is a group of individuals right now firing on the crowd no one is safe.'

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However, at that point, the gunshots had stopped, but the true fear struck me when I saw members of the VIP waitstaff and club security running towards our direction (to get to the back fence) along with the patrons. Someone had shouted, "What's going on?" and all they were able to respond was, "GET OUT OF HERE". So we did. My friends and I attempted to stay with each other as much as we could, considering the circumstances. I grasped my husband's hand as we headed towards the back fence and had to constantly re-grip as the crowd would stampede through, nearly separating us as we tried to desperately get out of the way.  

Once we saw what was occurring at the back fence, it was very clear that that was not the best option to get out. People were trying to knock down the giant 10 foot rail fence, but it would barely budge. Everyone began resorting to practically catapulting each other over it, which was not a great idea because many fell and some broke limbs. A person could have easily cracked their head over if they landed on their head. At this point, my sister saw that people were exiting out the front, which meant that the shooting was over, so we beelined over the back VIP platform to the get to the front entrance. 

As we went by, we saw a girl crying over someone covered in blood and we ran past them towards the exit. Near the exit, I looked down (it was hard to see if you were stepping on anyone) and saw another body laying over a pool of blood and barely heard my husband say, "Look away!" as he tried to distract me away from that line of sight. Once outside, the crowd was running left and right frantically. We managed to get to a corner, hoping to find the rest and eventually, we met up in the main shopping area (via a Whatsapp group we used for communication all week). 

By whatever divine intervention, my friends and I were spared injury and fatality. Five individuals were not so fortunate and about fifteen others suffered from heavy injuries that had them hospitalised. It was later reported that the BPM Festival head of security, Kirk Wilson from Canada was one of the security members shot at and killed along with, Daniel Pessina from Italy and Geovanni Ruiz Murillo (who was in a BPM shirt, unknown if a member of staff) from Veracruz. Two patrons were killed as well, Rafael Penaloza Vega, (also from Veracruz) was hit in the crossfire and a young 18-year old, American woman, Alejandra Villanueva Ibarra was trampled to death during the stampede. 

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Over the past week since the incident, there have been three lines of investigations on-going as to the reasoning for the shootings (Mexico News Daily reported)

- A personal dispute between two individuals

- A fight over drug dealing territory 

- Extortion

On Monday, four narcobanners were hung up around Playa del Carmen with a message loosely translating to the following words (reported by Semanario News Play Del Carmen)

"This was an example that we are here already. This is because you did not align with us Phil -BPM [Philip Pulitano, co-founder of BPM]. This is the beginning and we will be cutting heads of Golfo, Pelones and Chapulines, members of the current cartel [Sincerely] el FAYO Z from the old SCHOOL."

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This threat sort of points in the direction of this being an example set by an older run cartel from Cancun, known as the Zetas who apparently were cut out of the drug action was increasing in sales in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. This was a quote from Mexico News Daily from a local in Playa Del Carmen: 

“I am a businessman, but I wouldn’t open a business here,” said a local resident who owns businesses in Jalisco. “You have to pay derecho de piso [a tariff charged by criminals that gives businesses the freedom to operate]. That’s the only way you can work. They threaten you and if you don’t pay, they kill you.”

The publication also reported that the government official, Cristina Torres, had acknowledged that members of the service industry had filed complaints about the rising scale of drug trafficking and extortion, but had stated these were issues her administration had inherited when she took office in October. 

Since Sunday, most, if not all music related events in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, had been suspended and permits revoked. It was stated that BPM was no longer going to having its festival in Playa Del Carmen and that the government is banning all events of similar types, such as Arena Festival, that was to be held in February. 

“At this moment, our general stance is not to allow BPM to perform here,” Municipal President of the Business Coordinating Council of the Riviera Maya, and Mayor of Solidaridad Cristina Torres Gómez is quoted in Mexican-publication El Universal. “It is a decision that we have to make together; we have to analyse the type of destination that we want to have, what kind of events we want to…promote and, above all, what that event entails, what the regulatory framework will be for these kinds of events.” (Billboard.com)

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The world will blame BPM Festival for putting the patrons in harm's way, BPM fans will blame the cartel and Quintana Roo officials for having a lack of control over the drug-related violence. However, nothing can really be said about this tragic incident other than, we hope nothing like this occurs again. It will constantly be a reminder as to the negative consequences of the drug trade and how it impacts everyone, not just those who were taken from us and the injured.

The entire team here at Magnetic Magazine extends it deepest condolences to the family members of those passed in the tragedy and we wish the swiftest in recoveries for those injured. And for many, like myself, who witnessed this and were fortunate enough to get out unharmed, I would like us all to an active stand against violent natures and encourage the necessity of patron safety of every event that we attend. 

Please take a moment to help the family of the late, Kirk Wilson, who was at the front line of defence for everyone at Blue Parrot that night. He was more than security personnel, he was a father, a husband, a son, a friend and hero. 

Go Fund Me Link here

Also, the family of Alejandra Villanueva Ibarra, the young American who was lost to us in the crowd stampede.

Go Fund Me Link here