Armando Montaño, a former intern for the Colorado Independent, died this past weekend in Mexico City, where he was writing for the Associated Press. Mexican officials are investigating his death and, according to the AP, the U.S. embassy is monitoring that investigation.
Mando, as his friends called him, died in a building near his apartment in the city’s trendy Condessa neighborhood, his body reportedly found Saturday at the bottom of an elevator shaft.
Mando had been living in the Mexican capital for only roughly a month at the time of his death, but a story on an airport police shootout he posted a week ago touched on the widespread corruption of officials routinely tapped to help move the cash and merchandise of the drug trade.
“Two federal police officers suspected of working for drug traffickers opened fire on fellow officers in a crowded food court Monday, killing three policemen as panicked witnesses dove for cover,” he wrote in the story dated June 26.
The slain agents were members of a team investigating a cocaine trafficking ring. The team had seized more than 600 pounds of cocaine at Mexico City’s international airport, where the firefight Mando reported took place last Monday.
The AP said Mando was “not on assignment at the time of his death.”
The stint in Mexico City was just the latest stop for Mando on a learning tour at some of the top journalism outlets in the country.
He interned for the New York Times Caucus blog last December from Iowa, where he was a student at Grinnell College. He had also interned at the Seattle Times and at the Chronicle of Higher Education. He wrote a long-form piece on toxic mining waste blighting the San Xavier Indian Reservation in the Arizona desert for the New York Times Student Journalism Institute in 2010 and in recent years had won a series of news and reporting fellowships and scholarships. His work for the AP from Argentina and Mexico appeared in major outlets coast to coast, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and at Salon.com. He studied Spanish language and Latin American history and culture at Grinnell and conversationally referenced post-colonial theory in talk about his reporting. He was scheduled to begin graduate school at the University of Barcelona in the fall.
As a multimedia intern for the Colorado Independent during the summer of 2010, Mando covered a midterm GOP primary debate, the legal tribulations of infamous Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader Doug Bruce and dueling national activist tours for and against gay marriage.
A gay Latino who grew up in conservative Colorado Springs, Mando was a naturally empathetic reporter who seemed wise about people beyond his years. He approached stories with a distinctive combination of earnestness and wit that matched his youth but that seemed likely to stay with him for the long haul.
Mando told his colleagues at the Times Student Journalism Institute two years ago, when he was 20 years old, that what interested him was the opportunity to help newsreaders “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
In a discussion conducted when he was finishing work at the Independent about his professional goals, Mando trotted out a long list of well-worn reasons not to pursue a career in journalism, doing a knowing imitation of a generically crusty newsroom editor concerned for a young person’s future.
“It’s all true,” he said, referring to collapsed newspaper business models, the decline of theoretical former ethical standards, the loss of public trust. “It’s all true, but not necessarily all bad!”
Mando was a young man with many talents who could have done anything, but he had a dream and he saw opportunity and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. He wanted to be a journalist. At the Independent, he remains an inspiration.