Dina Garcia-Peña, owner of the El Tejano newspaper, received a threatening message from a man on Aug. 1, 2019, the same day her outlet published a news item about his indictment.
Garcia-Peña told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the weekly newspaper often covers crime in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, publishing breaking news on the outlet’s Facebook page where it has an active social media following.
“One of the things that we do is we publish posts having to do with small crimes, and grand jury results have become quite popular,” Garcia-Peña said.
Garcia-Peña told the Tracker that shortly after El Tejano reported on a grand jury’s decision to indict Lazaro Orlando Banda Treviño on charges of indecency with a child, she received a threat through her personal Facebook account. Police later determined that it was sent from Banda Treviño’s Facebook account.
Garcia-Peña said the message was in unclear Spanish, but roughly translated to “You need to shut your trap or this will be you.”
Brenda Lee, law enforcement liaison for the Starr County Attorney’s Office, confirmed to KRGV Channel 5 News that the message also said in part, “Be informed before moving, you sucker, because soon you will wake up like this. The world is small and I am everywhere.”
Attached to the message was a picture showing a severed head and a dismembered body, according to KRGV.
Garcia-Peña told the Tracker that she has received threats before, but this message had more substance and concerned her. She said she reached out to the local district attorney who advised her to contact the special crimes unit.
Law enforcement liaison Lee told KRGV that local police did not hesitate to take action. “We will not tolerate any news media or any news media outlet being threatened for doing their job,” Lee said.
Garcia-Peña said that police were able to identify Banda Treviño as the source of the message, but that they believe he left for Mexico sometime in 2018. Police have put out an active warrant for Banda Treviño’s arrest in addition to the indictment he is already facing.
Garcia-Peña said shortly after KRGV published about the threat she received, Banda Treviño responded with a long, vulgar comment on El Tejano’s Facebook page. Garcia-Peña told the Tracker that this comment did not have threats of violence, but claimed that some of the outlet’s reporting was incorrect.
The threat has strengthened her relationship with her readers, Garcia-Peña told the Tracker, and she plans to continue working as one of only two reporters covering local crime and politics.
“I think I’ve gotten more support from my community, more readers,” Garcia-Peña said. “And in terms of me reporting: It hasn’t made me quiet.”