TODAY   |  February 27, 2012

Beating of US student spotlights violence in Mexico

Two years ago, American student Zeke Rucker was brutally beaten and left for dead at a Cancun resort in what some believe may have been a savage act of cartel violence. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> of thousands of college students will be taking off for spring break in the coming weeks. one of the most popular destinations the mexico , but with drug violence on the rise the state department has issued a travel warning. janet shamlian is in cancun this morning. good morning to you.

>> reporter: matt, good morning to you. the beaches are beautiful here. it feels carefree but the fact is we are not far from the ongoing violence of the mexican drug war . starting this week and for about the next six weeks or so american college students will be streaming here for spring break . this morning one young man's story exposes the potential dark side of a usually laid back week i'm sexy and i know it

>> reporter: with sun kissed beaches, oversized drinks and bikinis cancun is the gold standard for american college student this is time of year. tens of thousands will party here over the next six weeks. two years ago zeke was among them, joining friends for a final fling before starting law school . you had no concerns whatsoever that it wasn't safe.

>> not at all. everyone does it. how can it hurt someone?

>> reporter: yet what happened hours after zeke arrived would do just that. after a night at the clubs, zeke fell asleep on a lounger near the hotel pool. he remembers nothing of what happened next but his parents can't forget the phone call . zeke was found near the pool, a doctor told them, bloody, unconscious with multiple skull fractures. he was on a ventilator and near death .

>> you can't believe it. everything becomes surreal from that point on. you're living in a nightmare.

>> reporter: for weeks zeke was in a coma. for months he couldn't walk or talk. law school was put on hold for relearning the basics.

>> i was certainly brain damaged. it was like i was sort of a small child.

>> reporter: to this day zeke 's case is unsolved. no suspects, no idea what happened. cancun police tell nbc news the hotel never reported the crime. there are surveillance cameras where zeke was beaten. the hotel told his parents there was no video of the attack.

>> the camera wasn't functioning.

>> reporter: do you believe that?

>> no. do you?

>> reporter: zeke 's mom believed the hotel feared losing business. the barcelo told nbc news it had no comment on the case. the area has not been immune to drug violence consuming mexico , but the director of the cancun tourist police says the zone is heavily patrolled and safe. as for zeke , the left side of his face is paralyzed, no hearing in his left ear but he's now in law school .

>> to an american it's sort of surreal that something could happen like it did to me and basically no one cares. the hotel doesn't care. the police don't care and there was no real justice.

>> reporter: a young man's cautionary tale as dawn breaks on another spring vacation season south of the border . mexican authorities say cases like zeke 's are unusual in cancun and the tourist heavy beaches are exempt from the travel warning. but 14 mexican states are included. among them, the big travel destination of puerta vallarta where just last week 22 american cruise ship passengers were robbed at gun point. back to you.

>> janet shamlian in mexico this