A Los Angeles woman who was at a beach club watching the sunset has been killed in crossfire between two drug gangs in Tulum, Mexico.
The woman, named locally as Niko Honarbakhsh, was shot dead during the ordeal – and prosecutors in Quintana Roo stressed she had no connection to the drug deal.
Another man, who went by the nickname ‘Belize,’ was also killed during the shooting on Friday just after 6.30pm. The deceased had been at a beach club in the Tulum Hotel Zone – which is a coastline tourist strip filled with upscale clubs and eateries.
Honarbakhsh, 44, was living in Cancun but was originally from California, according to ABC News. Local news site Riviera Maya News also identified her as ‘Niko H.’
The woman was watching the sunset alone at the beach club with her dogs, and was just about to get up and pay when she was caught in the crossfire, witnesses said.
Pictured: The coba beach in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The woman, identified as Niko Honarbakhsh, was shot dead during the ordeal – and prosecutors in Quintana Roo stressed she had no connection to the drug deal. The deceased had been at a beach club in the Tulum Hotel Zone – which is a coastline tourist strip filled with upscale clubs and eateries
Onlookers, who say the shooting occurred at the Mia Beach Club, said Honarbakhsh looked ‘so happy’ with her pets, who were ‘chilling out on the sand’ all day long.
A couple sitting behind her said they thought the gunshots were fireworks at first – and that everything happened so quickly that didn’t even have time to react.
Prosecutors denied reports in local media that the two deceased were a couple, saying a photo of the Belizean man showed him with a completely different woman.
Belize shares a border with Mexico on the Caribbean coast. Tulum is located south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, closer to Belize.
Prosecutors said the dead man had cocaine and pills in his possession when he was killed, and was believed to be a dealer.
They said the suspects in the shootings had been identified and were being sought.
In their statement, the State Attorney General said that ‘the female person who unfortunately lost her life had no connection with the deceased male, identified with the alias ‘Belize’.
‘Regarding the man ‘Belize’, he is identified for his probable participation in events possibly constituting drug-related crimes in the form of drug dealing and that he was part of a criminal group that generated violence in the state.
‘At the time of the events, the subject had among his belongings 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.’
The fatal shooting on February 9 occurred in front of horrified holidaymakers.
One person took to TripAdvisor to describe their distress after two people were murdered in front of them. They said the ordeal occurred at Mia Beach Club.
The tourist, from Austin, Texas with the username Justin R, wrote on February 10: ‘Is Tulum no longer safe? 2 people murdered in front of me.
‘My partner and I were enjoying the sunset on the beach yesterday at Mia Beach Club when all of a sudden some guy with a gun started chasing another man shooting at him while running in the middle of the beach club crowd.
‘Some tourist on vacation with her 2 dogs, mere feet away from us was hit by some of the stray bullets and was killed.
Three witnesses online said that the shooting took place at the Mia Beach Club in Tulum. Officials did not name the location
‘The gunman had shot the guy he was chasing once and it slowed him down enough that the gunman walked over and shot him a couple more times in the back.
‘The gunman just ran north down the beach into the crowd. Security at the Mia had no clue what was going on nor did they check on the 2 people shot.
‘It was other beach guests that did. The people that worked there almost acted like it was no big deal, and gave none of us instructions like, get down, get off the beach….. none of them got on their radios calling for the police or backup.’
In response to his comment, another tourist from New Jersey chimed in and said that he also witnessed the woman and man get shot.
The second TripAdvisor poster, with the username Nick C, wrote: ‘I was there with my girlfriend as well. We were sitting behind the lady with the two service dogs.
‘The shooter ran past us right behind us. We are lucky we didn’t catch a stray bullet as well. I would have thought I would have caught one before the lady did as I was closer and (I thought) more in the line of fire than her.
‘Truly lucky to have come out of that unharmed. It all happened so quick at first we thought it was fireworks until we saw the shooter run past us firing.
‘By then it was too late and had zero time to react or get down.
‘Prayers go out to the lady, that’s a very sad way to pass. She was minding her own business having fun alone with her dogs for hours. If I’m not mistaken, she was getting ready to pay and leave.
‘You’re right none of the workers did anything to alert us or aid the wounded. The lady was down for a few minutes before anyone even checked on her.
‘The guy being chased was down for even longer and it was only a tourist go checked on him at first then was left alone again.
‘This will definitely leave a sour taste in my mouth whenever I think of Tulum, it’s my second time here. I get it could happened anywhere but the police could definitely do more to minimize these drug deals or gang rivalries going off. Not really sure what the motive of the murder was but one can only imagine.’
A third witness, also posting on TripAdvisor, said they were leaving when the commotion kicked off.
The poster, with the username Giandrea84, wrote: ‘I’m so sad to hear this. I was there all day and was about to leave when the shooting started.
‘I heard everything and saw some. I just run away the opposite side but there was so much confusion that no one knew what really happened.
‘I remember the lady with two dogs. She looked so happy during the day and the dogs were chilling out on the sand. When I read about what happened to her I felt incredibly sad. My thoughts are with the family.’
The State Attorney General’s Office did not confirm the location of the shooting. Mia Beach Club has been contacted by DailyMail.com for comment.
Foreign tourists have been killed in the past after getting caught in drug gang shootouts in the once-tranquil beach resort in Mexico.
In 2021 in Tulum, two tourists — one a California travel blogger born in India and the other German — were killed while eating at a restaurant. They apparently were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between rival drug dealers.
Anjali Ryot, of San Jose, was at the La Malquerida bar when she and 35-year-old Jennifer Henzold, of Germany, were trapped in the middle of a dispute between the assailants and a rival drug dealer.
Ryot was declared dead at the scene by paramedics. Henzold was rushed to an area hospital, where she died.
The shooting also wounded two German males, aged 26 and 25, and a 21-year-old woman from the Netherlands.
A native of India, Ryot arrived at the popular Mexican resort town ahead of her birthday – she would have turned 26 just days after the fatal shooting.
Just hours before the tragedy, she took to her Instagram account to share a video of her walking near a platform at the Cielo Maya hotel and resting on a hammock.
Ryot had been working as a senior site reliability engineer with LinkedIn. She had previously been employed by Yahoo, where she spent five years working as a site reliability engineer and service engineer.
Last year, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert warning travelers to ‘exercise increased situational awareness’ especially after dark, at Mexico’s Caribbean beach resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
In June 2023, two Californians Abby Lutz, 28, and John Heathco, 40, were found unresponsive in their hotel room at the five-star $780-a-night Hotel Rancho Pescadero near Cabo San Lucas, with reports suggesting the couple died due to inhalation of gas.
And in April last year, four people were found dead by a four-star all-inclusive beachfront hotel in the Riviera Maya resort of Cancun after a broad-daylight shootout.
Police initially revealed they had discovered three bodies near the Fiesta Americana Condesa Hotel before confirming a fourth corpse had been found in undergrowth close by.
The shootout, the latest in a series of violent episodes in the Mexican holiday resort, occurred around 10am local time on Monday.