Mark Kilroy's murder 20 years laterPosted: Updated:
It's hard for to believe it's been 20 years since UT junior and pre-med. student Mark Kilroy was murdered by a narco satanic cult while on Spring break. Since then we've seen an explosion in drug violence in Mexico and the rise of dark religions favored by some drug traffickers.
Against this backdrop I returned to the Rio Grande Valley to speak with those who witnessed the horror first hand. George Gavito is the now in charge of security at the Port of Brownsville. In 1989 he was a Lieutenant with the Cameron County Sheriff's Department. "I've investigated over 250 murders. This here is what you call your career case. Something nobody will ever deal with. You cannot be trained. You can't take any courses or classes to prepare for this," Gavito told me.
Tony Zavaleta is now a Vice President at UT Brownsville. Back then he was an anthropologist who had studied various folk religions on the border and in Mexico. And he served as an expert for the case.
After years of silence he's talking again, remembering the first time he saw the crime scene, the Rancho Santa Elena. "I never until that moment felt the presence of evil. It was tangible. I hadn't even gotten to the place yet. I'm still 50 yards from it, but there was just a foreboding and sense of evil."
What's more, Zavaleta's son was also on Spring break and in Matamoros the same night Mark disappeared. "When the news broke that Mark Kilroy's remains had been found and that he been a victim of a horrible murder and human sacrifice it just sent a shudder through my body as a father. Realizing my son was over there on the streets while these people were prowling, looking for a victim."
And the search for supernatural protection is far from over. "A lot of these guys involved in narcotics believe in brujeria (witchcraft). And they believe somebody puts a spell on you." Gavito says it's a thriving business as traffickers fight for turf. "And these brujas right now in Mexico are making a killing with these guys that are in the dope business."
In 1989 in the dark days after the discovery of the mass grave that included Mark's remains, his parents relied on their faith to survive. Gavito recalls, "Mrs. Kilroy wanted to know if Mark had a chance to pray before he was killed. I assured her that he did."
They also took comfort in the local border community and beyond which embraced the couple from Santa Fe, Texas. "When Mark was found we received so many letters and calls from families that told us how they had been affected by drugs."
Helen and Jim Kilroy have dedicated their lives to drug prevention education with The Mark Kilroy Foundation. It's grown into a communitywide effort to help students that includes after school and summer programs.
Now, as drug violence escalates along the border they watch and worry. "It's just about taken over the country of Mexico. It's very difficult for the federales trying to protect Mexico," Mr. Kilroy told me.
As the anniversary date of Mark's murder nears his parents are spending this weekend in the Valley. They'll see old friends like George Gavito. The lawman and the couple developed a strong bond when Mark was missing and remained close friends long after the case was closed. "We still have a special place in our hearts for the people in the Valley who were so helpful to us when we were looking for Mark."