Miriam Rodríguez Dedicated Her Life To Finding Her Daughter’s Killers — And Then Was Murdered Herself

Published April 19, 2023

Miriam Rodríguez spent years tracking down her daughter's killers, one by one, until she was murdered on Mother's Day in 2017.

Miriam Rodriguez

San Fernando Missing Persons Activists CollectiveMiriam Rodríguez dedicated her life to seeking justice for her daughter, Karen.

Until the end of her life, one thing consumed Miriam Rodríguez: justice. Her 20-year-old daughter, Karen, had been abducted and killed by Mexican cartel members in 2014, and Rodríguez became determined to hunt down every one of her daughter’s kidnappers.

Her quest led her to change her appearance, stake out cartel members’ homes, and spend hours scrolling through social media for clues. Carrying a pistol, Rodríguez often hunted down her daughter’s kidnappers herself, sometimes pursuing them on foot until the police arrived.

Rodríguez’s dogged pursuit of justice made her something of a hero in San Fernando, Mexico. But it made her enemies, too. And on Mother’s Day in 2017, the 57-year-old was shot and killed outside her home.

The Abduction Of Miriam Rodríguez’s Daughter

For Miriam Elizabeth Rodríguez Martínez, everything changed on Jan. 23, 2014. That day, as her 20-year-old daughter Karen Alejandra Salinas Rodríguez drove through San Fernando, two trucks pulled up beside her. Armed men forced their way into her car, and then drove off with her.

Rodríguez and her family spent the next several weeks trying to bring Karen home. They knew that she had been taken by members of the Zetas cartel — an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel — who were known to kidnap innocent people and use their ransoms to fund cartel operations.

As The New York Times reports, Karen’s loved ones tried to follow all of the cartel’s instructions. Inundated with a barrage of phone calls, threats, and demands, they took out a loan to pay Karen’s ransom and left a bag of money at a drop-off point. Still, Karen didn’t come home.

With no other options, Miriam Rodríguez asked to meet with a cartel member. To her surprise, one agreed. Though he told her that he didn’t know where Karen was, he offered to help find her for $2,000. Rodríguez paid the fee, which led nowhere. But she also learned the young man’s name: Sama.

With this information in hand, Rodríguez had found her first clue. She told her surviving daughter that she believed that Karen was dead, but that she would not rest until she’d hunted down Karen’s kidnappers.

A Mother’s Search For Justice

Slowly, carefully, Miriam Rodríguez started to gather clues about her daughter’s kidnappers. After she found Sama on Facebook, she identified one of his friends by her ice cream store uniform and spent hours waiting outside the shop until he appeared. Then, she followed him.

Rodríguez found out where Sama lived, but she still needed more information. In order to sneak around his neighborhood undetected, she dyed her hair red, donned an old uniform, and spoke to his neighbors under the guise of conducting a “poll.” And after being ignored by the authorities, Rodríguez finally found an ally within the federal police who was willing to help her.

Miriam Rodriguez Sitting

TwitterMiriam Rodríguez changed her appearance in order to find out more about her daughter’s kidnappers without attracting their attention.

“When she pulled her files onto the table, I had never seen anything like it,” the anonymous police commander told The New York Times. “The details and information gathered by this woman, working all alone, were incredible.”

Though Sama escaped arrest the first time, the police were able to eventually detain him. Sama gave the police names of other cartel members, who shed even more light on Karen’s abduction. One even agreed to take the police to the ranch where Karen had been killed.

At the ranch, Rodríguez found Karen’s scarf, a cushion from her truck, and one of her femur bones. Then, she renewed her search to find Karen’s killers.

“She told us that she was incomplete, that although she had found her daughter, nothing would ever return to normal for her,” a friend of Rodríguez’s told the BBC.

Miriam Rodríguez’s Vigilante Work

In all, Miriam Rodríguez would hunt down 10 cartel members who’d played a role in her daughter’s kidnapping. Many had left the cartel and attempted to start over as born-again Christians, or flower vendors, but Rodríguez had little sympathy for them.

“Where was his compassion when they killed my daughter?” she said after one of the cartel members was arrested in a chapel, eliciting protests from the congregation.

Indeed, Rodríguez made waves in San Fernando. Not only was she going toe-to-toe with a powerful enemy, but Rodríguez was also challenging a way of life. She seemed to recognize the danger of her work, and remarked that she had no fear of death.

“I don’t care if they kill me,” Rodríguez told a friend, according to The New York Times. “I died the day they killed my daughter. I want to end this. I’m going to take out the people who hurt my daughter and they can do whatever they want to me.”

Tragically, her words proved prophetic.

How Miriam Rodríguez Was Killed By Cartel Members

Miriam Rodriguez Gesturing

TwitterMiriam Rodríguez became an activist for families whose loved ones had disappeared in Mexico.

In March 2017, 29 inmates dug a tunnel and escaped from a penitentiary in Ciudad Victoria, where Karen’s abductors had been imprisoned. Miriam Rodríguez asked for police protection, and local police agreed to send patrols, according to The Guardian.

But on May 10, the day when Mexico celebrates Mother’s Day, the danger inherent in Rodríguez’s work finally caught up to her. The 57-year-old was hobbling up to her front door on crutches — she’d recently broken her foot chasing after a suspect — when a white Nissan driven by the escaped inmates pulled up in front of her house.

They shot Rodríguez about a dozen times, then drove off. Her husband found her sprawled in their driveway, her hand in her purse, where she kept her pistol.

Miriam Rodríguez’s death enraged people across the state. The governor, Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, wrote on Twitter: “The government of Tamaulipas will not allow the death of Miriam Rodríguez to turn into yet another statistic. #NoToImpunity.”

But though the government did arrest two of Rodríguez’s killers — a third was killed in a gunfight — her murder unraveled much of Rodríguez’s work. Her son had taken over the collective Rodríguez had started, Colectivo de Desaparecidos de San Fernando (San Fernando Collective for the Disappeared) but the organization slowly collapsed following her death.

Tragically, Miriam Rodríguez’s story is hardly unique. The BBC reports that approximately 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2007 when the then-Mexican president declared a “war on drugs.”

Day Of The Disappeared

ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty ImagesTwo women embrace during the International Day of the Disappeared in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on Aug. 30, 2022.

When Karen became one of the tens of thousands of innocent people abducted by the cartels, her mother sprang into action. She paid for it with her life, but Miriam Rodríguez found justice for her daughter.

“Not everyone got along with her,” a state official told The New York Times. “But you respected her mission.”

After reading about Miriam Rodríguez and her relentless hunt for justice, discover the story of Gary Plauché, who killed his son’s kidnapper on live television. Or, learn about Marianne Bachmeier, who shot and killed the man who murdered her seven-year-old daughter.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Miriam Rodríguez Dedicated Her Life To Finding Her Daughter’s Killers — And Then Was Murdered Herself." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 19, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/miriam-rodriguez. Accessed May 25, 2024.