July 2014
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Death of a Sicario (hitman). The story behind the photo


Famous photo representative of the drug war in Mexico, but who is he?

That’s David Barron Corona, the chief enforcer of the Arellano Felix Cartel (Tijuana).

David “Popeye” Barron Corona was a member of the Barrio Logan Heights gang in San Diego and later the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) prison gang. He committed his first murder at the age of 16.

Convicted of murder, Barron Corona was sent to prison. In 1989, he got out of prison and soon began working as a bodyguard and hitman for the Arellano-Felix brothers of the Tijuana Cartel (AFO).

Barron Corona was personally recruited when the Tijuana Cartel were waging a war with their hated rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The beef stemmed from who would control the drug smuggling routes from Tijuana to the border city of San Diego, California.

While in Mexico, he was trained in paramilitary tactics by the Tijuana Cartel, which included heavy weapons training. This training helped to make Barron Corona highly proficient in the crimes of kidnapping and murder.

Later, Barron successfully recruited dozens of San Diego gang members to cross the border to work for him and the AFO as kidnappers and hitmen.

On November 8, 1992 the rival Sinaloa Cartel struck out against the Tijuana Cartel at a nightclub in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. Eight Tijuana Cartel members were killed in the shootout but the Arellano-Félix brothers successfully escaped with the assistance of Barron.

It is said that Barron personally shielded the Arellano-Felix brothers, killed several attackers, hid the brothers in the bathroom, and then returned to continue the battle. And even more, helped the brothers escape and went to a police station where he was supplied with more weapons and ammunition by corrupt police and returned to the nightclub to continue the fight.

For these “heroic” actions he became “Honorable Knight” and chief enforcer of the Arellano-Felix cartel.

In retaliation, the Tijuana Cartel with the assistance of Barron Corona attempted to set up Guzmán at the Guadalajara City airport on May 24, 1993. In the shootout that followed, six civilians were killed by the hired gunmen from the Logan Heights Gang. The deaths included that of Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.

The church hierarchy originally believed Ocampo was targeted as revenge for his strong stance against the drug trade. Mexican officials, however believe Ocampo just happened to be a victim of mistaken identity. The Cardinal arrived at the airport in a white Mercury Grand Marquis town car, known to be popular among drug barons, making it a possible target.

Intelligence received by Barron was that Guzmán would be arriving in a white Mercury Grand Marquis town car. This explanation, however, is often met with pessimism due to Ocampo’s dress (he was wearing a long black cassock and large pectoral cross), as well as his dissimilar appearance to Guzmán and the fact he was gunned down from only two feet away.

Barron Corona participated in the drug traffic and in the most important hits of the cartel, including the assassination of rival hitmen, police officers and soldiers.

On November 27, 1997 Barron and a group of hitmen were sent to kill journalist Jesus Blancornelas in Tijuana.

Blancornelas covered the rise of Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations for more than thirty years and had recently published photos of cartel members who had received police ids.

Blancornelas was shot four times but survived. Luis Valero Elizalde, Blncornelas’ bodyguard, died; he was shot 38 times. Their car was hit more than 180 times.

It is believed that one bullet fired by one of Barron’s own hitmen ricocheted after hitting Blancornelas’ car and hit Barron’s eye, killing him instantly. Seeing their leader killed, the other hitmen stopped the attack and escaped. This factor contributed to Blancornelas’ survival.

And that’s the photo, showing Barron in the exact position he ended, still with a finger holding the trigger of his weapon.

Three additional and worth mentioning events after Barron’s death:

Investigators believe that Ignacio Hernandez Meza, “Wolfie”, a gang member form Oceanside in San Diego and one of the hitmen who ambushed Blancornelas was later executed by the cartel for firing the bullet that ricocheted and killed Barron.

Jesus Blancornelas died nine years later from complications caused by stomach cancer, possibly by the embedded bullets he received when he was shot.

With Barron’s death, the Tijuana cartel lost much of their enforcer strength. No other hitman had the “attitude” Barron had, connections, or level of trust from the Arellano-Felix brothers. The Arellano-Felix brothers had to start performing the hits by themselves.