Four Americans were injured in a beachfront shoot-out between Mexican gangsters that left two suspected drug dealers dead and tourists scrambling for cover.
A US official briefed on the incident confirmed to ABC News that the Americans were hurt, with one reportedly shot but recovering well in hospital and the other three sustaining minor injuries.
Holidaymakers at the five-star luxury beach resort in Cancun barricaded themselves in rooms when a party of 10-15 armed criminals arrived on the beach by boat and killed two rivals in what local police described as a targeted “execution”.
Earlier in the day, the victims had apparently arrived at the beach in front of the Azul Beach Resort and the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun and claimed the territory as their own.
The head prosecutor of Quintana Roo state, Oscar Montes de Oca, told the Radio Formula station: "About 15 people arrived on the beach to assassinate two men who had showed up saying they were the new dealers in the area.”
In an earlier statement, Mr Montes de Oca’s office said “there was a clash between rival groups of drug dealers on a beach” near the hotels.
One of the victims died in one of the hotels after running inside while the other died on the beach. The gunmen wore ski masks and arrived and fled the scene by boat at the beach.
The attack took place in the Petempich Bay, between Cancun and the quieter former fishing village of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s tropical Yucatán Peninsula.
When it began, the Hyatt was hosting a week-long Day of the Dead celebration for LGBT+ travellers, organised by a New York travel company called Vacaya.
Guests at the Hyatt and nearby Azul Beach Resort shared footage and photos of tourists hiding in the hotels during the incident.
Active shooter at Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun Resort. All guests confined to lobby now. Hotel staff huddled together in corner. Still no announcement or update from hotel, Hyatt, or police. Several guests have now told be they saw gunman come up from the beach, actively shooting. pic.twitter.com/fL9BP7Jisb
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) November 4, 2021
Andrew Krop, a publicist in Montana whose husband Eric was at the hotel to sing for the LGBT+ gathering, told The Independent that Eric had been returning to the beach after finishing a measure of tequila at the hotel bar just before noon local time when he heard at least 20 gunshots.
“He ran back into the hotel and ended up in some random room with one of the housekeepers,” said Mr Krop, whose account of events was confirmed to The Independent by Eric Krop. “They barricaded the door with mattresses – there were two queen mattresses in the room – and just tried to stay as quiet as possible.”
Mike Sington, a guest at the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun, wrote on Twitter: "Guests are telling me they were playing volleyball on the beach, gunman approached firing guns.
"Everyone ran from beach and swimming pools. Staff hustled us into hidden rooms behind the kitchens. I’ve never been so scared, literally shaking. I’m fine now, barricaded in my hotel room for the night, just trying to decompress."
Cancun’s seafront is much sought after by several cartels for its lucrative retail drug trade, and the shootings are just the latest display of gang violence that has disrupted the once tranquil reputation of Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Governor Carlos Joaquin called the attack “a serious blow to the development and security of the state ... putting the image of the state at grave risk”.
Rival cartels in Mexico often kill another gang’s street dealers to get rid of the competition and to ensure their drugs are sold first. Just two weeks prior to this shooting, one US and another German tourist were killed in a similar incident in the beach town of Tulum.
WATCH: A shooting involving rival gangs on a beach near Mexico's Caribbean resort of Cancun left two suspected drug dealers dead on Thursday and sparked panic among foreign tourists./ via @AFP pic.twitter.com/6q6lez5OOm
— Concept News Central (@cnc_tribunephl) November 5, 2021
Police in Playa del Carmen recently arrested 26 people, most of them reportedly for drug sales, after an officer was shot dead and locked in a car boot. Prosecutors said crime had increased due to “extortion [and] drug sales to foreigners and Mexicans”.
The trouble endangers Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s hopes for economic progress in the so-called Riviera Maya, named for its proximity to Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza.
The government is planning a luxury airport near Tulum and an intercity rail line that will loop around the whole Yucatán Peninsula, on whose tip Cancun sits.
Claudia Anaya, a former Mexican senator, described the experience as a “horror movie”, asking: “Do you think tourists want to keep coming to share our tragedy?”
Vacaya’s co-founder Patrick Gunn said: “Vacaya can confirm there was a gang-related shooting incident near the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun on November 4 and it was in no way a targeted attack on the LGBT+ community.
“Thankfully, there were only a few minor scrapes and bruises along the way, with the exception of one guest, who was injured. That individual is currently doing well at a local hospital, is surrounded by friends and family, and is we hope will return to the resort shortly.
“We have been given the all-clear from Mexican officials to resume operations. We are now working hand in hand with our hotel partner to calm and nurture our guests.”