At least 19 people shot dead at Mexico cockfighting pit

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March 28 (UPI) — At least 19 people were shot dead and several others were wounded at a cockfighting pit in Mexico on Sunday, officials said.

Gunfire was reported at a palenque, or cockfighting arena, in the town of Las Tinajas in the state of Michoacán around 10:30 p.m., the office of the Attorney General of the State of Michoacán said in a statement. Cockfighting is legal in Mexico, though banned in some places like Mexico City.

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Crime scene investigators were sent to the scene and found the dead bodies of 16 men and three women who had died from gunshot wounds, officials said. Several other people were wounded and taken to local hospitals.

Prosecutors said that an investigation has been opened, and a motive for the shooting was not immediately known.

Local news outlet Red Michoacán obtained a recording in which dozens of gunshots can be heard and reported that a fourth woman has died, bringing the possible number of victims to 20.

Michoacán, located in central Mexico, is one of the most violent states in the country but also one of the largest exporters of avocados in the world. Farmers in the state have regularly been extorted by drug cartels, which have been engaged in a bloody turf war since about 2006.

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Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended imports of avocados from Mexico after one of the agency’s inspectors at a plant in Michoacán received threatening calls to his cell phone.

César Arturo Valencia Caballero, the mayor of another town in Michoacán, was shot dead just a month later in an assassination on March 10, Gov. Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla said in a statement.

The Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, which has ties to the state, has been called “one of the five most dangerous” criminal organizations in the world by the U.S. Justice Department.