CULIACAN, Mexico - A 20-year-old state beauty queen was killed during a running gunbattle between soldiers and the gang of drug traffickers she was traveling with in northern Mexico, the chief prosecutor of the state of Sinaloa said Monday.
In a scene reminiscent of the 2011 movie "Miss Bala" - or "Miss Bullet" - the body of Maria Susana Flores Gamez was found lying near an assault rifle on a rural road in a mountainous area of the drug-plagued state. It was unclear if she had used the weapon.
"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout," state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera said. "That's what we're going to have to investigate."
The doe-eyed, slender brunette was voted the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa in a beauty pageant in February. She had earlier competed for the other, more prestigious state beauty contest, Our Beauty Sinaloa, but didn't win.
Higuera said Flores Gamez was traveling in one of the vehicles that engaged soldiers in an hours-long chase and running gunbattle on Saturday. Higuera said two other members of the drug gang were killed and four were detained.
The shootout began when the gunmen opened fire on a Mexican army patrol. Soldiers gave chase and cornered the gang at a safe house near the town of Mocorito. They escaped, and the gunbattle continued along a nearby roadway, where the gang's vehicles were eventually stopped. Six vehicles, drugs and weapons were seized after the confrontation.
It was at least the third instance in which a beauty queen or pageant contestants have been linked to Mexico's violent drug gangs.
In 2008, former Miss Sinaloa Laura Zuniga was stripped of her crown in the Hispanoamerican Queen pageant after she was detained on suspicion of drug and weapons violations. She was later released without charges.
Zuniga was detained in western Mexico in late 2010 along with seven men, some of them suspected drug traffickers. Authorities found a large stash of weapons, ammunition and $53,300 with them inside a vehicle.
In 2011, a Colombian former model and pageant contestant was detained along with Jose Jorge Balderas, an accused drug trafficker and suspect in the 2010 bar shooting of Salvador Cabanas, a former star for Paraguay's national football team and Mexico's Club America. She was also later released.