MONTERREY, MEXICO – A prison riot in northern Mexico overnight that left dozens dead started as a fight between leaders of rival gangs, officials said Thursday.
Fifty-two people were killed inside Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, Mexico, Nuevo Leon state Gov. Jaime Rodriguez said at a news conference.
Twelve others were injured, including five who are in critical condition, he said. Inmates set fires during the riot, which affected two of the prison’s units, the governor said.
Local news outlets showed video of flames rising from the prison.
The violent event comes just one day before Pope Francis arrives in Mexico, a trip that will include a stop in Ciudad Juarez, a city on the mend after once being known as the murder capital of the world.
Relatives want answers
The riot at Topo Chico started half an hour before midnight and was under control by 1:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. ET) Thursday, Rodriguez said.
State and federal forces as well as relatives of inmates amassed outside the site Thursday. Worried family members demanded answers about the fate of their loved ones.
The government said it had not yet identified all of the victims.
“We don’t really know what’s happening,” one woman told reporters. She said her son managed to call her from inside the prison, recounting how once the riot started, he hid for safety in the women’s wing of the prison.
Another woman told reporters a similar story — of her son seeking shelter in the women’s wing.
“There is a riot, they want to kill us all, come ask for me,” the woman said her son told her.
The governor called the riot “unfortunate and painful.”
Mexico has seen deadly riots and other prison violence in the past.
At the same prison in Monterrey, three inmates were stabbed to death in February 2012.
That same month, 44 inmates were killed and 30 escaped in a riot at a prison in Apodaca, near Monterrey. Security officials blamed the violence on a fierce rivalry between drug cartels inside that prison.
In 2011, the head of security at the Topo Chico prison was found dead and mutilated. Authorities said that a note, presumably from a drug cartel, was left with the body.