Vancouver student killed in Mexico

12/31/1969 07:00 EST | Updated 03/06/2012 05:12 EST

Police are investigating the homicide of a University of British Columbia student in Mexico — a slaying that local news media say may have been linked to organized crime.

Ximena Osegueda, 39, was working on her doctorate in Hispanic studies in the town of Huatulco, about 500 kilometres southeast of Mexico City, when she went missing in early December.

Osegueda's family members who live in Mexico became concerned when they were unable to reach her for several days.

They pleaded for information about her disappearance on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

At the end of December, Mexican police found two bodies half buried on a beach in a tourist area. The bodies were later identified as those of Osegueda and her partner, Alejandro Alvarado.

"She didn't die in an accident, she died in a murder and it's a very sad situation," said Osegueda's friend, Elisa Lipkau, who was interviewed in Vancouver.

Lipkau said Osegueda's family thought she may have been kidnapped, but there was no ransom demand.

Huatulco is considered a dangerous area, known for drug trafficking, said Lipkau.

"Definitely, in the last few years, we've received notices of people dying, civilians that have nothing to do with the narco traffic," she said.

According to Mexican media reports, the beach was being used as a burial site for victims of organized crime.

State prosecutors in Mexico said Osegueda and Alvarado were tortured before being executed.

Osegueda studied and worked as a teaching assistant at the University of British Columbia in French, Italian and Hispanic studies.

She was doing her PhD on colonial Latin American literature, with a focus on Mexico. Her previous degrees were from McGill University in Montreal.

No obvious motive

Police are investigating several possible theories as to a motive in the killings, including robbery and assault, or a personal vendetta.

There are no reports of arrests.

UBC is doing what it can to help Osegueda's grieving friends, said university spokeswoman Lucy MacNeil.

"Of course, this is upsetting for anyone who heard the news who knew Ximena at UBC," MacNeil said. "The university puts itself at the service of our students and faculty, people who were part of her community, to support them through this."

A memorial service is planned for Osegueda in Mexico this weekend.

News of Osegueda's slaying comes just days after the killing of Saltspring Island, B.C., resident Robin Wood in the Mexican town of Melaque.

Wood was reportedly killed after interrupting thieves who had broken into a condo where he was staying.