Beauty queen who was 'human shield' in gunfight

Maria Susana Flores Gamez was caught between suspected drug gang and soldiers

A 22-year-old Mexican beauty queen killed during a gunfight between a suspected drug gang and soldiers appeared to have been used as a human shield, an official on said Tuesday.

The soldiers reported that Maria Susana Flores Gamez was holding a weapon when she came out of the gang's car during Saturday's clash in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, said the official from the federal prosecutor's office.

The soldiers' report 'does not say if she fired, only that they used her as a human shield' during the confrontation, the official, who had access to the defense ministry document, said on condition of anonymity.

The doll-faced brunette's demise has put a spotlight on relationships between beauty queens and the country's ruthless drug traffickers, with examples of women having children with them or being briefly arrested.

The state prosecutor had stated on Monday that Flores, who held the title of Woman of Sinaloa 2012, was part of the gang and that an AK-47 was found next to her body after the shooting.

A forensics test found gun residue on her hands, suggesting she fired the weapon, the state prosecutor's office said.

Two men and two women, including Flores, and a soldier died in the running gunbattle that extended across the municipalities of Salvador Alvarado and Mocorito. Four other people were arrested.

Mexican media say Flores, who participated in the Miss Oriental Tourism pageant in China in May, was traveling with her boyfriend, a suspected hitman, when the shootout erupted. The boyfriend also died.

The armed group is linked to Orso Ivan Gastelum, alias 'El Cholo Vago,' the suspected leader of a group of hitmen working for the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.

Families and friends held a funeral in the state capital of Culiacan on Sunday, covering Flores in a veil amid a heavy military presence.

On its Facebook page, the organizers of the Nuestra Belleza Sinaloa pageant voiced their 'deepest condolences' for the death of Flores, who was a "charming and happy young woman with a great future."

Other beauty queens had run-ins with the law or gave birth to children following their involvement with drug traffickers.

The head of the Sinaloa cartel, the fugitive Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, got married in 2007 with 18-year-old Emma Coronel Aispuro, whom he helped win a pageant at a local fair.

Coronel reportedly gave birth to twin girls in California in August 2011 but was not arrested.

In December 2008, Laura Zuniga, the winner of the Nuestra Belleza Sinaloa pageant that year, was arrested in the western state of Jalisco along with seven suspected Juarez cartel members. She was later exonerated.

In 2011, Colombian model Juliana Sossa Toro was detained along with her boyfriend, suspected Mexican drug trafficker Jose Jorge Balderas, in Mexico City. She was later released.

Balderas was accused of shooting former Paraguay football player Salvador Cabanas in a Mexico City bar in 2010.

"The relationship between pageant models and these men is neither new in Mexico nor in the rest of the world," Elmer Mendoza, a Sinaloa native who writes novels about drug cartels, told AFP.

Gang members 'always want to be accompanied by beautiful women, and they transform them to their taste with plastic surgery,' he said.

"They should treat the women they capture with these men differently because very often they are young women who let themselves be impressed, who don't have the tenacity to attend a university and end up with these men due to a lack of opportunity," Mendoza said.

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