Remembering Mark Kilroy: 22 Years Later, This Former Texan Is Still Haunted

Maybe it was writing about Charles Manson the other day.

Or maybe it was reading about the carnage in the Juarez valley, just across the Texas border, or the arrest of a 14-year-old hit man near Cuernavaca, or the horrific increase in not only murders, but specifically, beheadings all over Mexico.

For whatever reason, Mark Kilroy has been much on my mind lately.

He was a handsome young man, and by all accounts, smart, fun and friendly. Remember? Or is it only those of us who lived in Texas at the time who were traumatized then and are still haunted by it now, 22 years later? Mark was a pre-med student at the University of Texas (which I, too, attended for a while) and hailed from a little town less than an hour’s drive from where I lived at the time. Maybe that’s why I identified so strongly with him. The way I remember it, though, everyone in Texas came to see Mark as one of their own. After he suddenly disappeared in Matamoros, just over the Mexican border from Brownsville, TX, it was headline news for weeks; every time we opened the paper or turned on the TV, we’d see a picture of that young face so full of life, with his whole life ahead of him and obviously looking forward to it.

What happened to him is too horrible for me to recount in detail. You can read the full story here, if you have the stomach for it. To recap as briefly as I can, the weeks-long search for Mark finally ended when police found what was left of his body on a God-forsaken ranch where a Satanic, voodoo-type cult had killed dozens of people over several years. The beautiful young man had been tortured, mutilated, offered as a human sacrifice, and cannibalized. The cultists were drug dealers, who believed that their sacrifices to the devil obtained magical powers for them that would make them able to operate with impunity. In fact, investigators only discovered the cult’s site because they’d been pursuing a drug trafficker who unwittingly led them right to it since he believed that his black magic had made him invisible, and therefore untouchable by officers of the law.

Once the case was solved, and the perpetrators hunted down and imprisoned, we, the public, mourned and eventually moved on. We thought that this was one of those occasional outbreaks of pure evil, like the Jim Jones cult in Guyana, and that this macabre chain of events had no implications for the future.

Little did we know. Seventeen years later, in 2006, decapitations — with severed heads displayed for maximum terrorizing effect on local populations — began to become commonplace among the Mexican drug cartels, each gang trying to outdo the other in horror. Some observers speculate that videos posted on the Internet by Al-Qaeda In Iraq at that time may have inspired the practice. Others wonder if the slayers have been influenced by bloody rituals practiced in the region back in pre-Columbian times.

Whatever its roots, there appears no end in sight to the current wave of decapitations. [Luis] Astorga [author of several books on the drug cartels] fears that even worse atrocities lie ahead. “Who knows what perverse methods these assassins might use to get one up over their rivals,” he says. “Many are military killers but without the army command to hold them back. Their only limits are what they can imagine or what they can find in the most violent Hollywood movies.”

I can’t deal with this much grimness and horror without looking for a ray of hope. I’ll be honest. I find my hope in the lordship of Jesus Christ over the world. Regardless of how crappy things look sometimes, the final victory really is His. Mark Kilroy’s parents, Jim and Helen, will tell you so themselves. Enduring an ordeal no parent should ever face, they drew on their deep religious faith during the search and afterwards. After it was all over, they were determined to bring good out of unfathomable evil.

Jim and Helen Kilroy work closely with the Mark Kilroy Foundation and its mission: the prevention of substance abuse, providing about 600 youths with free educational and sport activities, counseling, concerts and summer camps….

Since drugs were at the root of their son’s death at the hands of drug traffickers, they take every opportunity to counsel against substance abuse. Concerned residents started the foundation shortly after Mark’s death.

“We were still in shock and not really over our grieving, and as things progressed, it developed into a nice organization that gets lots of things done,” Jim Kilroy said. “Lots of people work on it.”

Helen Kilroy said drug awareness is the direction in which the Lord moved them.

“It seems like, once Mark disappeared, it was almost like we were on a journey,” she recalls. “In searching for him, we were being led in different ways and what brought us to the point that we are at now. It just seems that was what our Lord wanted us to do, that we should be saying whatever we could to help our young people not get on drugs.”

The Kilroys, wisely, are addressing the root cause of the living hell that so much of Mexico has become: the ravenous appetite of the United States for mind-altering drugs. Many young people in America feel so lost that the “escape” of drugs — which they find out only too late is really the worst kind of enslavement — is very alluring. The Kilroys’ foundation, like similar efforts in other places, works to help young people develop inner defenses against addictive behaviors by getting them in the habit of making life-affirming choices. When people have personal goals that they want to reach in the future, they’re not as likely to sacrifice that future for a temporary feel-good “fix” right now.

As anyone in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other twelve-step group for people with addictions can tell you, that choice for life is only possible through faith in a “higher power.”

God said: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.”

Deuteronomy 30:19