The Inconvenient Death of Brad Will

Mexican police gun down a counterculture hero

"He was concerned about the growing intervention by the Priistas," Jourdan recalls, using the Spanish nickname for supporters of the state's ruling PRI. "And he was worried about federal police pushing in. He said he thought at any time stuff could shift."

Things did shift. Will's last video tells the story.

Brad Will was gunned down while filming protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.
photo: AFP/Getty Images
Brad Will was gunned down while filming protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.


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It opens with Will conducting interviews with local residents and activists defending the barricade outside the university's radio station, which had come under fire by unidentified gunmen that morning. A man on the barricade says a group of 100 or more Priistas firing rifles had attacked the barricade and forced the demonstrators to retreat from the street. They regrouped and drove out the Priistas, though one of their compañeros was later grabbed and beaten up.

"We are the townspeople here who are fighting for our rights!" exclaims one local woman. "We don't want to live in a state of repression, of attacks and assassinations, and compromises," she shouts, gesturing up the street, where an SUV is ablaze.

Walking up the street, Will pans over the billowing clouds of smoke coming from the truck, which reportedly belonged to one of the Priistas but had been set aflame by the demonstrators after they chased the gunmen away.

Shots ring out, and Will takes shelter beneath a tractor trailer while trying to zoom in on the shooters. Looking out between the wheels, he zeroes in on a small traffic island, where a man in a white shirt is firing a pistol from behind a tree, surrounded by several other men in civilian clothes. It's a surreal scene. At one point a man on a bicycle pedals slowly past the intersection, as if nothing were going on.

And then the Priistas retreat down a side street, with the shadow of Will's camera tracking them. "White shirt," Will says, identifying the shooter for the group of young men in hoodies and bandannas as they pursue their attackers through the barrio with their own rudimentary weapons: sticks, rocks, slingshots, and homemade rocket launchers used to set off flares—generally used by the APPO members to warn of an attack.

"Where, where?" a demonstrator asks.

"Over there, on the corner," Will answers.

"Vamanos, vamanos! [Let's go!]" the young men shout. The gunmen appear to retreat inside a two-story house from which they continue firing. A young man rushes up and tries to bash through the flimsy metal garage door with a stick. It's crazy; he could be shot at any second. Yet Will has positioned himself at the side of the door, as if ready to storm in. He and the other demonstrators are forced back by a hail of gunfire. Then the demonstrators back a dump truck down the street to serve as cover. Eventually they crash the truck though the garage door of the house, which is reportedly owned by one of the shooters.

More shots ring out, and a demonstrator fires a flare down the road, which witnesses say was reportedly to ward off a different group of shooters on the ground. Will is standing on the side of the street behind a group of demonstrators, trying to capture the exchange, when he gets hit.

The sound of a single shot is followed by that of his final, pitched cry of pain.

The footage swirls as Will falls, but the camera, dangling from his neck strap, continues to record the frantic scene as the demonstrators run with his body amid another hail of gunfire. "Vamanos! Vamanos!" they shout. Finally the camera is set down on a ledge but stays on to record a few more rounds of gunfire, then it goes black.

Press photos show his fellow protesters struggling to revive him. In an interview with Free Speech Radio News, one of the demonstrators described how they carried Will's body past the barricades to a VW Beetle, but it ran out of gas on the way to the hospital.

"We tried to wave down a cab and some passing cars, but no one wanted to stop because of the violence that day," said the man, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. So they carried Will's body several more blocks, amid a sudden downpour, until a truck finally stopped and took Will to the Red Cross. According to the man, Will had been squeezing the man's finger to let him know he was still alive. "He died in my arms, about four or five blocks before we got to the hospital," the man said.

The U.S. embassy and news accounts initially reported that Will had been caught in a "shoot-out" between police and protesters. Indeed, the PRI-controlled pirate radio station Citizen Radio called Will an "armed terrorist" and claimed that Will had been firing back at the shooters.

While that claim is absurd, it now appears that there may have indeed been some level of crossfire between APPO and the gunmen. APPO has always declared itself a nonviolent movement, whose weapons—rocks, sticks, Molotov cocktails—are used only in self- defense. Yet pictures published in El Universal and La Crónica de Hoy identify at least three men with pistols as APPO supporters.

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