A medical doctor from Arkansas who disappeared in Mexico on Sunday is back in the United States, officials said late Friday evening.
Relatives of Dr. Jessy Pacheco, after enduring days of fear and uncertainty, were joyous at the news.
"Yes sir! Glory to God. He's alive," Pacheco's brother, Carlos Robles Franco, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Pacheco, who had dreamed for years of becoming a doctor, earned a degree in medicine June 14 from a university in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.
Two days later, the 29-year-old Van Buren resident disappeared after exiting a nightclub in the Providencia neighborhood well after midnight.
The body of a friend who was with him, fellow medical student Carlos Alejandro Delgadillo Romero, was found in a nearby street, pierced by gunfire from an AK-47-style rifle, according to news reports.
At the scene, investigators found a black cellphone, one tennis shoe, two cigarette butts and five shell casings, Mexican newspapers reported.
Witnesses said assailants in a red car had beaten Delgadillo, gunned him down and then driven away.
Initially, Pacheco's family was unaware of what had happened.
Vilma Franco, the new doctor's mother, is who notified authorities that Pacheco was missing, according to Milenio, a widely read Mexican daily.
In her missing person's report, written in Spanish, she said she was unaware of any quarrels.
"My son is an easy going person and he doesn't have problems with anybody," she noted.
For the next five days, she waited for his safe return.
Law enforcement officials in the state of Jalisco believed that Pacheco had been the victim of a crime, but they struggled to collect information. Many people who live and work in the neighborhood were reluctant to testify.
Workers at a convenience store did speak, however, telling police that Delgadillo had purchased cigarettes shortly before his death. As he waited for an Uber that was on its way, the occupants of a red vehicle shot him and then fled, witnesses said.
On Friday, five days after Pacheco's disappearance, officials still had not released surveillance video from the nightclub and a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store, a relative complained.
No arrests had been announced.
As they awaited developments in the case, Pacheco's relatives prayed that they would see him again.
"We haven't given up hope of finding him alive, and we ask God for mercy and a miracle. We miss him so much," Robles said at the time.
Soon thereafter, he learned that those prayers had been answered.
On Friday evening, Mexican news outlets announced the breakthrough.
Rick Bagley, news director at TV stations KFSM/KXNW in Fort Smith and the Fayetteville area, also got the scoop, posting the news quickly on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, who had sought help for the family from the U.S. State Department and others, retweeted Bagley's message, adding, "Amazing news. Thankful for the work of authorities and extremely grateful that Jessy is safe and will be coming home. Keep him and his family in your prayers."
In an interview late Friday, Womack, whose 3rd District includes Van Buren, said Pacheco had already left Mexico.
"My understanding is that he's in Dallas. He'll be flying into Arkansas later this evening," the Republican from Rogers said.
Details about Pacheco's five-day ordeal were still unclear, Womack said Friday evening.
"I'd say we have more questions than we've got answers. But the good news is he's apparently OK. A lot of people were fearing the worst because you just didn't know," Womack added.
The murder of one American student and the disappearance of another had captured the attention of the Mexican media for days -- not only on news outlets in Guadalajara but also in Mexico City, 300 miles to the southeast.
Telemundo and Univision, two Spanish-language networks with high viewership in the U.S., also tracked the story.
Pacheco's disappearance was devastating for Franco.
A single mother, Franco immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Jessy was born in California in 1989 and moved to Van Buren when he was 5 years old.
In Arkansas, Franco supported her family by working at a chicken-processing plant. Seeking a better life for her children, she encouraged them to go to college. Both did.
For his undergraduate studies, Pacheco enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Later, he studied at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, known by its Spanish-language acronym -- U.A.G.
The decision was driven, in large part, by financial considerations.
In Mexico, "education was a lot cheaper than the U.S. and he didn't want to give up his dream of becoming a doctor, especially with the aim of reaching out to the people in the Ft Smith & Van Buren area," his brother, Robles, recalled in a message sent online.
In addition to taking classes, he also worked at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith as a surgical technologist from February 2015 to February 2017.
With this month's graduation approaching, family members who could afford it traveled south for the ceremony. Others watched it online.
In a Facebook post written that day, Pacheco praised God and paid tribute to his mother.
"Are all dreams possible? Yes because we have a God who is almighty; through Him and with him, all things are possible. And so my dream of becoming a doctor was fulfilled today!!!" he wrote. "I am so happy and blessed to have an amazing mother who helped me to this point of my life today. She is a true role model for me."
Graduation photos of Pacheco, beaming, are the last thing he posted, along with a picture of the diploma he had worked so hard to earn.
The site is now crowded with messages of congratulation and concern.
Mexico, once relatively safe, has become an increasingly high-risk destination for Americans.
"The country, in general, has been going through a convulsion of violence for the last 12 years," said Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, part of a Washington-based think tank.
With crime rising, the Mexican justice system is struggling to handle it.
"If you commit a murder, you have a less than 2% chance of going to jail. The investigative capacities of the police are limited. The court system doesn't work very well. The prosecutorial powers of the state are weak, so it's really not good news," he added in a telephone interview.
Michael Forbes, editor of The Guadalajara Reporter, an English-language paper, says the city isn't as safe as it once was.
"Unfortunately violent crime has become just another part of daily life in Guadalajara -- and elsewhere in Mexico. There could be as many as a dozen killings in the metro area on a given weekend -- although most are connected to organized crime turf wars. Jessy's case is somewhat different since it's clear neither he or his friend were involved in this."
A cousin, Elmer Reyes, said Pacheco has been "a good example for all of us."
"He was such a great kid with a great dream. I'll tell you what, he shows that anything is possible if you really want it," Reyes said.
A Section on 06/22/2019