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Fatal Shooting Of San Diego Area Official During Mexico Vacation Remains A Mystery

Douglas Bradley surfs in this undated photo.

Credit: Family of Douglas Bradley

Above: Douglas Bradley surfs in this undated photo.

It's been a week since a top Imperial Beach official was fatally shot in southern Mexico during a surfing vacation, but the details of what happened remain unclear.

Douglas Bradley was about to turn 50. He was the administrative services director for the city of Imperial Beach. He had spent his past two birthdays surfing in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, a coastal resort town in Mexico's state of Guerrero and a magnet for surfers, both Mexican and non-Mexican. He went again this year and was killed.

Imperial Beach officials and Bradley's family have received contradictory information from Mexican officials regarding the circumstances of his death: exactly what time it happened, what possessions he had on his person when his body was found and more. The only consistent detail is this: in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, one day before his 50th birthday, Bradley was shot repeatedly in an apparent robbery in a hotel zone.

Video by Katie Schoolov

The mayor of Imperial Beach, Serge Dedina, became emotional when he recalled Bradley's contributions to city governance. He said Bradley was instrumental in reforming the city's financial management system, making it more transparent. Dedina said the two men bonded over their love of surfing and the ocean.

“We’re a small family in IB, it’s a small tight city, we’re all friends and — " Dedina stopped to collect himself. "We just want to get him back. And we just want to celebrate his life and remember him as a super stoked person who loved the beach, and more importantly, was really passionate about good government. It’s a huge loss for our city and our community.”

He said the city is planning a memorial service and a traditional surf paddle out for Bradley. But first, he and Bradley's family are working to bring his body back to the U.S.

Bradley's sister, Cheryl, traveled to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo to recover her brother's body on Thursday. She said she was disconcerted by a press release from a public relations firm working for Mexico's state of Guerrero, which alleged that her brother "could have an addiction to toxic substances."

She said she was worried that her brother's status as a U.S. citizen and a top city official could motivate nervous state officials to blame him for his own death, and she emphatically denied the report, published by spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia on his Facebook page.

"That's absolutely not true," she said. "He helped other people get off drugs."

Neither Alvarez nor the state attorney general's office responded to requests for comment from KPBS.

The state of Guerrero is one of Mexico's bloodiest due to widespread corruption and cartel violence. It is there that 43 Mexican students vanished after local police handed them over to a local drug cartel for execution in 2014. The case remains unsolved and the government's handling of the case has been widely condemned by international human rights groups.

Cheryl described her brother as a "warm, friendly, loving person." Bradley, who was divorced from his high school sweetheart, did not have children of his own but he was known as "Uncle Doug" by his friends' children.

His sister said he spent his free time chasing waves and had traveled to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and across Mexico on surfing trips. But Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo had a special place in his heart because of its great waves and authentic Mexican feel — he was thinking about buying property down there, she said.

"He loved the Mexican people, and he loved the culture," she said.

Photo credit: Family of Douglas Bradley

Douglas Bradley appears in this undated photo.

Bradley, who worked for the city of Imperial Beach since 2013, lived just south of the border in Playas de Tijuana with an ocean view. He grew up in Orange County, had a bachelor's in finance from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and a master's in business administration from Chapman University.

Bradley's death isn't the first time a U.S. citizen was murdered while adventuring through southern Mexico. The same year the 43 students disappeared in the state of Guerrero, the remains of a 32-year-old named Harry Devert were found there a few months after he left his job as a stock trader in New York to ride his motorcycle through Latin America.

Imperial Beach Mayor Dedina said it's imperative that the Mexican government address the escalating problems of violence in the country's tourist resorts, including Los Cabos and Cancun. Last year, Mexico's homicides reached a record level.

"We really have to make sure these areas are secure for tourists and for people who live there alike," he said.

Dedina said the city is working with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, the attorney general's office for the Mexican state of Guerrero and the state of Guerrero's governor to try to get to the bottom of what happened.

He said he himself had surfed the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo area last year with his children.

"The surf was pumping last year around Christmas," he said. "And this year as well, the best surf along the entire Pacific Coast during that period was in southern Mexico. They had a really unusual south swell, so that's why he was down there."

He said Bradley's murder won't change the city's policy of working within Mexico, nor will it discourage his own travels south of the border.

"Our real deep relationships with Mexico are what helped in getting this investigation happening and helping us recover the body," he said. "Whether it's working on water quality or border security or this unfortunate issue, we're going to continue to work very closely with Mexico because we have no choice — they're our neighbor."

Douglas Bradley, administrative services director for the City of Imperial Beach, was on a surfing trip in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico, when he was fatally shot.

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