CIUDAD JUAREZ – The director of state prison CERESO No. 3 has been fired and is under investigation for Sunday’s prison break in which 17 people died, officials said Tuesday.

At the same time, several inmates have been transported from the state prison to maximum-security federal facilities and additional soldiers have been deployed to Juárez to ensure the public’s safety.

Alejandro Alvarado Tellez, who has held the position of prison director for just five months, was relieved of his duties by the Chihuahua state prosecutor. He is now under investigation, along with various other administrative and operational employees, “to find out who is involved with the admission of prohibited articles, omissions as penitentiary authorities and the authorization of illegal acts,” according to a press release.

A bullet hole marks the guardhouse at the front gate of CERESO No. 3, where a seemingly coordinated attack resulted in the escape of more than 20 prisoners and the deaths of 17 guards and inmates on Jan. 1. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Soldiers found numerous prohibited items such as weapons, drugs, cash and cell phones in “VIP cells” within the prison on Sunday, according to Mexican Secretary of Defense Luis Sandoval Garcia.

A leaked photo appears to show that most of the 10 guards killed in the prison break were tied up and executed in a single room.

State authorities requested federal assistance in transferring prisoners out of CERESO No. 3, an action that they had failed to take after a previous riot on Aug. 11. On Tuesday morning, state police, the National Guard and the military moved 191 prisoners charged with violent crimes such as homicide, kidnapping and organized crime activities to federal prisons in five states.

A woman asks employees at CERESO No. 3 for information about the location of an imprisoned relative on Jan. 3. Authorities transported 191 inmates from the Juárez prison to maximum-security federal facilities in different states on Tuesday morning. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

In a scene punctuated by both cries of grief and sighs of relief, families gathered outside of CERESO No. 3 in Juárez waited for hours to hear news on the location of their loved ones.

“Oh thank God, thank God,” said a woman after learning her son remained in the Juárez prison. “God is good.”

Other families broke down in tears when they were told that their relatives had been transferred.

“I don’t understand why they moved him,” Rosa Maria Chavez cried outside the prison gates. “Who decided this? Who can explain it to me?”

Rosa Maria Chavez is distraught after finding out that her son, a detainee at CERESO No. 3, has been transferred to a maximum-security federal prison in the state of Veracruz on Jan. 3 despite not yet being sentenced on the charges for which he was imprisoned. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Her son, Jesús Manuel, has been in prison for five months and has not yet received a sentence. He was moved to a federal facility in Veracruz.

Most families will no longer be able to visit their loved one as they cannot afford to travel to other states.

In an apparent response to Monday night’s shootings and the continued efforts to locate the escaped prisoners, 300 special forces soldiers arrived in Juárez Tuesday afternoon in what the Mexican Army has named “Operation Juárez 2023.” The goal of the operation is to “reinforce operations being carried out to inhibit illicit actions by organized crime.”

Military personnel arrive at the Ciudad Juárez airport on Jan. 3 to provide additional security to the city in the wake of the New Year’s Day prison break and escape of criminal leader Ernesto “El Neto” Piñón. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Family members and other citizens of Juárez continue to wait for answers about how such conditions were allowed to exist within the prison and why authorities failed to take additional security measures after the violence on Black Thursday, or Aug. 11 when random shootings occurred throughout the city.

“It’s not that I have a bandage over my eyes when it comes to my son,” Chavez said through tears. “I only want the government to do things the right way. The only thing I ask is that they do something to stop so much corruption and so much injustice.”

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity,...