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Drug gangs target musicians

A round of killings sends chills through Mexico's entertainment world.

MEXICO CITY - A wave of organized-crime violence terrorizing many parts of Mexico is driving fear into the heart of the entertainment business with the murders of several popular musicians, suggesting no one is immune to the rampant brutality.

Most disquieting were the weekend slayings of two singers who had crooned only about love and loss, not drugs and guns like some


celebrities killed in the past.

The murders have mainstream singers worrying that they might become targets by becoming identified with one or another of Mexico's warring drug gangs.

Sergio Gomez, lead performer for the top-selling group K-Paz de la Sierra, was killed after he left a concert and was intercepted by 10 Chevrolet Suburbans. The other victim, Zayda Pena of the group Zayda and the Guilty Ones, was killed in a hospital room.

"What can I say? We are dismayed about this. I mean, we are all in the same boat," said Javier Diaz, representative of Los Tucanes del Norte, a popular group that often poses with assault rifles to promote its songs and violence-filled videos.

Although not known for songs glamorizing the drug business, Gomez had reportedly received death threats urging him not to appear in the capital of the western state of Michoacan, a hotbed of the drug trade where he was tortured before being strangled Sunday.

Pena was killed with similar brutality the previous day. Gunman fired an execution-style gunshot into her at the hospital where she was recovering from surgery for a bullet wound in her neck suffered Friday at a motel in the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.

Some fear that singers, whether they have any links to drug cartels or not, are routinely "adopted" by drug gangs, which post Internet videos showing their members torturing and executing rivals to soundtracks of popular tunes.

"It really has people worried, because you never know if you go to a concert, what will happen, whether somebody might get shot," said Pablo Zuack, press coordinator for Bandamax, a cable-TV channel specializing in northern Mexican music. "When you interview a performer, you never know if it's the last story you'll write about him."

Elijah Wald, author of the book


, said the musicians' fears might be justified.

"They've just kidnapped and murdered a major international star traveling with bodyguards," he said, referring to Gomez. "That is a very clear message: 'We can get anybody.' "

Carolina Jaramillo, a publicist who represented Gomez and other acts, said that the singer had no ties to the drug trade that she knew of and that she had no reason to believe he would be a target.

"This year and last year, we have seen a lot of violence," Jaramillo said. "We don't know where the next one could come from."

Gomez's manager, who is also named Sergio Gomez, told the television network Televisa that the singer had received threats earlier in the day warning him against performing in Morelia, which has been the site of bloody turf battles between Mexico's two main cartels.

His group canceled an appearance in Morelia last year after similar threats, but Gomez refused to cancel again, said Mario Olvera, a band representative.

After the concert, Gomez left with two business associates. His body turned up on a rural roadside with signs of strangulation and severe bruising on the thorax and abdomen as well as burns on the legs. The business associates reportedly were released unharmed.

Pena's slaying in a hospital was a tactic redolent of Mexico's drug world, in which gangs have been known to storm hospitals to rescue wounded comrades or finish off injured rivals.

Like Gomez, Pena had no known drug associations. While Gomez was famous for his up-tempo "Pasito Duranguense" rhythm and Pena wrote more in the balladlike


style, both essentially sang songs whose themes went little beyond love.

Many musicians are now worried that becoming associated with a drug gang may be as easy as waiting for someone to use their song as the soundtrack to a homemade video.

"More than anything else, the point is that musicians make music, they don't belong to any group," said Diaz, Los Tucanes' representative. "Nobody has the right to take anybody else's life."