Armando Montano: Account of "accidental" finding in journalist's death disputed

Update, 2:15 pm: Since I posted the account below concerning the mysterious death of 22-year-old journalist Armando Montaño in Mexico City, his family has received new information from the Associated Press that contradicts many of the details presented in the Mexican press (particularly an article that appeared in La Cronica de Hoy) concerning the investigation. According to the family's sources, there has been no -- repeat, no -- official declaration yet that the death was accidental.

"The Cronica account is wrong, along with several details, including his clothing being caught in the elevator," Diane Alters, Montaño's mother, informs me. "His clothing did not get caught. The Cronica has caused lots of anguish and confusion for everybody."

Although the Associated Press intern's death on the eve of national elections in Mexico appeared to many journalists as highly suspicious, there has been no evidence presented to date of foul play. "The Associated Press is in close contact with investigators in Mexico City," says AP spokesman Paul Colford, "and they're telling us the investigation into Armando Montaño's death remains open."

Original post: Mexican authorities have concluded that the death of Armando Montaño, a promising young journalist from Colorado Springs whose body was found June 30 in an elevator shaft in Mexico City, was an accident and not related to his work for the Associated Press. The announcement comes after days of speculation that the 22-year-old intern's death was possibly connected to a series of violent attacks on journalists in the country's escalating power struggles among drug cartels.

The Procuraduria General de la Republica, Mexico's attorney general's office, informed reporters that its preliminary investigation has determined that Montaño's clothing got caught in elevator machinery in a building near his apartment and that he was fatally injured in the incident. Full details of the circumstances have not yet been released.

Montaño had only been in Mexico City a few weeks after graduating from Grinnell College with a bachelor's degree in Spanish. But even so, he'd had several stories published under his byline at the AP bureau, from African elephants relocated to Mexico to a drug-related shootout among police officers at the airport.

An energetic, charismatic young man who liked being in the middle of the action, Montaño already had substantial experience as a journalist for someone so young. While working for the Palmer High School newspaper in Colorado Springs, he managed to interview actress Daryl Hannah and director John Sayles about their Colorado-based movie, Silver City. In 2007 he was chosen as one of sixteen guest columnists for that year's crop of "Colorado Voices" in the Denver Post. He went on to distinguish himself as an outstanding intern for the award-winning investigative unit at the Seattle Times, did multimedia reporting for the Colorado Independent, and helped cover the Iowa caucuses as an intern for the New York Times.

Montaño was the only son of Mario Montaño, chair of the anthropology department at Colorado College, and former Boston Globe writer and ex-Post assistant city editor Diane Alters. (Disclosure: While I didn't know Armando personally, Alters and I both teach in the journalism program at CC.) He had lived in a wide array of cultures, including time in Argentina and Costa Rica, and had planned to seek a master's degree in journalism at the University of Barcelona in the fall. Read about another mysterious death -- this one more than fifty years old -- in Alan Prendergast's "The case of the kidnapped coed."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast