16 February 2024, American woman killed in narco-shootout at 3-star hotel beach club, Tulum, Mexico

20 February, 2024 Hotel Attacks

The attack

Riviera Maya News says that on 9 February 2024 at 6:45 pm, there was a shootout between rival drug dealers in Tulum’s hotel zone. Initial reports said the shooting occurred at the popular Mia Beach Club, but Muir Analytics’ imagery analysis confirmed the shooting happened at the 3-star Selina Tulum hotel complex. The Mia Beach Club is actually in the center of the hotel compound.

Riviera Maya News suggests the main target of the attackers was a Belize national and alleged rival drug dealer of the organization – unnamed – that traditionally controls the retail drug trade in the area.

There are multiple reports on how the attack began.

El Universal says three men (some reports say two men, others say one) entered the beach club’s restaurant, spotted the rival dealer who was dining there, and opened fire. An eyewitness said on social media the attackers began firing “from beside the Mia DJ booth,” adding, “It was really scary.”

Additional eyewitnesses quoted by the Daily Mail (some via social media) describe what happened next. One of the attackers chased the rival dealer, shooting at him as they both ran into the hotel/beach club beach area packed with guests on lounge chairs. At least one of the gunman’s bullets hit the rival, which witnesses say slowed him down.

In the midst of this, an American woman was hit by at least one stray bullet and killed. She had been watching the sunset on her lounge chair and playing with her dogs for most of the late afternoon. She was reportedly the wife of an ex-DEA agent who now works for a real estate company.

Then, the gunman walked up to the injured rival dealer and shot him multiple times in the back, killing him. The shooter then escaped, running north up the beach.

The immediate aftermath

Social media posts on Reddit quote eyewitnesses that said after the shooting, scores of people ran terrified into the hotel area of the compound. Others quoted by the Daily Mail allege that the hotel/beach club’s security did not appear to react to the shooting, nor did they corral the guests to safety, nor did they tend to the victims. However, a few hotel/club guests immediately tended to the victims, so said commentators on social media.

When first responders arrived, witnesses say emergency medical technicians tended to the victims and were seen doing chest compressions on the American woman.

Police discovered on the dead dealer’s body “transparent bags containing white powder with characteristics typical of cocaine, transparent bags with red and orange pills, as well as a transparent bag containing brown granulated powder,” says Riviera Maya News.


Violence in Tulum is widely reported in the press and has been addressed by Muir Analytics. See the following article: “9 November 2021, Cartel assassination team raids Hyatt hotel in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, shootout kills 2 dealers, 4 guests hurt, guests and staff flee for their lives” – scroll down to the “Background of the attack” section to read about Tulum.

Just days before the Selina Tulum shooting, Riviera Maya News reported on 6 February that Mexican authorities had increased their security presence and drone surveillance in Tulum because of the dramatic increase in crime. Since March 2023, there have been 120 murders in Tulum, says Fatima Vasquez Digital. Most of these appear to be drug related.

Police in Tulum have a unit called Itzamna Drone Group, which recently began conducting three flights a day over the area’s coast, conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions (ISR). They look for motorcycles and vehicles of known criminals and audacious criminal activity, such as violent daylight robberies of tourists and locals, says Por Esto!. Tulum police also reportedly coordinate with a unit called the Jaguar Investigation and Intelligence Group. (It is not clear if this is the name of a special intelligence unit with the name “Jaguar” or if it’s Mexico’s anti-animal trafficking unit that specializes in jaguar protection, which has ISR capabilities). Riviera Maya News additionally said the government added 30 military personnel to the 90 already deployed in Tulum in January.

On 17 February, Noticaribe said the Mexican government was replacing Tulum’s Secretary of Public Security and Citizen Protection with one Captain Pedro Enrique Jaramillo Visoso, who formerly served as general director of Public Road Safety of Tecomán, Colima, and as commander of the 12th Marine Infantry Battalion. The Mexican Marines have for years spearheaded effective arrest operations of top cartel commanders and lieutenants, and they have been integral to tourist protection operations along the Riviera Maya.

In other Tulum-related crime, an American man was kidnapped in recent weeks (presumably February – the victim does not know the exact day he was taken) while visiting relatives in Limones, about 100 miles south of Tulum. He was held for ransom for $200,000, says Mexico Daily News. On 4 February, troopers from the Mexican Army’s 7th Motorized Cavalry Regiment found the man via intelligence from locals who said they saw armed men in a taxi from Tulum drive into a suspicious-looking makeshift jungle road, reports Fox News.

Some of the violence in Tulum has resulted from an apparent splintering of the Los Pelones gang into three warring groups, says Borderland Beat. Óscar Montes de Oca, Attorney General of Quintana Roo, refers to them as “Cartel de los Pelones,” says Riviera Maya News, indicating that the organization has grown into more than just a street gang. Aside from drugs and extortion, Cartel de los Pelones is heavily involved in weapons trafficking, says AG Oca.

Multiple press sources say other criminal groups operating in Tulum include, but are not limited to, “La Barredora,” “Los Compich,” and “La Gente de Aquiles” (aka “The Achilles Gang”), a group tied to the Sinaloa Cartel. The latter was, and might still be, active in Playa del Carmen – see this 2019 article from Vanguardia. La Gente de Aquiles is aggressively violent and is known for dismembering its victims.

Analytical takeaways

There are six takeaways. First, the tactics used by the attackers at the Selina Tulum/Mia Beach Club were effective in killing the rival drug dealer but sloppy in shot placement (aim), resulting in the death of an American beachgoer, known in military terms as collateral damage. Muir Analytics warned of this very scenario happening in past threat briefs here and here. It is not uncommon for innocent bystanders to get hit by gunfire in these situations. The Mexican government has publicly stated that many crime organizations do not care about collateral damage. Muir Analytics believes that some of the more hyper-violent gangs and cartels target civilians on purpose to enhance their fierce reputations and as warnings to the Mexican government to leave them alone. See here for more information.

Second, multiple criminal groups, including the splintered factions of Los Pelones and others like La Barredora, and La Gente de Aquiles, indicate a significant threat to public safety in Tulum. These organizations are deadly and do not care about collateral damage and its fallout.

Third, if the observations about the Selina Tulum/Mia Beach Club crisis response are accurate, then this establishment is vulnerable to a tarnished brand and possibly even lawsuits. Real-world staff training based on hotel threat intelligence is necessary to ensure guest safety.

Fourth, because of the degraded security situation in Tulum, hotels and hospitality venues will find it difficult, and maybe impossible, to secure traditional insurance to cover such exposures. They must access highly creative and data-driven underwriting strategies to cover themselves.

Fifth, it is evident that more public-private partnership security measures are necessary to secure hotels, beach clubs, tourists/guests, and staffers from said violence in Tulum and along the Riviera Maya.

Sixth, the recent increase in government security activity and change of security leadership in Tulum means the government recognizes the degraded security situation and is willing to address the problem. Time will tell if these efforts are effective or not.

As an aside, while the Tulum-linked kidnapping case in Limones doesn’t represent a pattern, and no culprits were identified, this kind of activity, coupled with the weapons trafficking information on the Pelones Cartel, merits observation. It could be that criminal gangs in Tulum have been allowed to fester, leading them to become more organized and ambitious, turning Tulum not just into a high-crime area, but an organized crime hub akin to the city of Cancun (not the Cancun hotel zone). If this is the case, then securing Tulum will require a more robust government effort, and violence might increase in the meantime. This will demand an enhanced security effort by hotels and hospitality venues as well.

Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal – with over 3,000 hotel attacks (and growing). We can provide the hospitality, insurance, and law enforcement/government sectors with intelligence that facilitates full-spectrum risk reduction, which helps hotels protect guests, staff, buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation:  1-833-DATA-444.

Sources and further reading:

En medio de una fuerte ola de violencia, nombrarán a nuevo secretario de Seguridad Pública en Tulum,” Noticaribe, 17 February 2024.

American kidnapped in Mexico, left to die in jungle with eyes, wrists taped,” Fox News, 16 February 2024.

Stray bullet leaves one dead in Tulum beach club shooting,” Riviera Maya News, 15 February 2024.

r/tulum, troisiemechanc3, “Gun shots at MIA,” 14 February 2024, https://www.reddit.com/r/tulum/comments/1an3gn4/gun_shots_at_mia/?rdt=53783.

Los Angeles woman, 44, is gunned down in crossfire between two drug gangs outside exclusive beach bar in Mexico’s upscale Tulum tourist spot,” Daily Mail, 13 February 2024.

Tulum: ¿Bajo La Sombra De La ‘Ley Mordaza’?Fatima Vasquez Digital, 13 February 2024.

Tulum beach club shooting death toll rises to two,” Rivera Maya News, 12 February 2024.

Asesinan a 2 extranjeros en restaurante bar en Tulum,” El Universal, 11 February 2024.

US kidnapping victim found in Quintana Roo,” Mexico Daily News, 9 February 2024.

State steps up security due to ongoing turmoil in Tulum,” Riviera Maya News, 6 February 2024.

Cámaras de seguridad captan robos violentos a turistas en negocios de Tulum,” Por Esto!, 8 January 2024.

Three bodies of ‘Los Pelones’ gang left with narco message in Tulum, Quintana Roo,” Borderland Beat, 31 August 2023.

Arms trafficking generated by Los Pelones Cartel reports FGE,” Riviera Maya News, 9 May 2023.

La banda de “El Aquiles”…la peligrosa célula del Cártel de Sinaloa que disputa Tijuana y Playa del Carmen con el CJNG y es responsable de más de 500 muertes,” Vanguardia, 19 April 2019.

Copyright©Muir Analytics 2024