Mexican mass grave may be linked to abductions

Family members of the kidnapped listen to the city prosecutor.
Family members of the kidnapped listen to the city prosecutor.Sáshenka gutiérrez / EFE

Rodolfo Ríos Garza, the federal district's chief prosecutor has confirmed the discovery of at least 7 bodies in a town near the capital. Garza said his office is performing DNA tests to find out whether any of the 12 youths who disappeared on May 26 as they left a downtown after-hours club are among the dead. Ríos Garza said at a press conference that excavations in the mass grave in the municipality of Tlalmanalco are still underway. Investigators want to make sure there are no more corpses at the site.

Because of the degree of decay that the remains have undergone the authorities are collecting DNA samples in order to compare them with those taken from the abductees. The chief prosecutor has said that there is no indication that these bodies correspond to them. "The DNA samples will help us confirm or dismiss," he said. Ríos Garza also announced that two people found near the mass grave were arrested. It remains unclear whether they are linked to the case.

Ricardo Martínez, the lawyer of the victims' families, claimed on Milenio TV that he had received a phone call Wednesday night from some witnesses from the place where the bodies were found. According to his account the authorities have found two graves with 13 bodies although the chief prosecutor has said that so far they have only located one.

The bodies were found in a well-known location, at La Negra ranch, next to another well-known farm known as La Mesa, which offers eco-touristic services. The area sits in a valley between sparsely inhabited forest hills. There are a few humble homes on the land. To the east of the valley are the two most famous volcanoes of the country, Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl. On the western side is Tenaya, a gravel mine.

The Mexican Attorney General's Office arrived at the common grave at La Negra ranch via a paved road that crosses La Mesa ranch, a spokesperson said. According to him they arrived around 8 a.m. and started to look around. Within about two hours they had found a car attached to a empty trailer where there were guns. To be precise they found two pistols and one shotgun. They continued the search and at about 3 p.m. they found a spot on the land where the soil had been dug up. Someone had poured cement over a square space of about 2 meters long. Under the slab, the official said, they found several cadavers. "We did not realize the bodies had been dismembered," he recounted. We could see that they had been covered with a mixture of lime and sand."

La Mesa ranch was closed on Thursday afternoon. A locked gate cut off access. An employee lifted and lowered the gate from his station in wooden booth. In front the booth were three posters. One of them detailed the services available in the park: walks through forest land, horseback riding, bungee jumping and deer watching.

In Mexico City eight of the abductees' family members burst into the chief prosecutor's office minutes before the press conference began. They complained that the information had been leaked to the press before it had even reached them. Later, during the press conference, they listened to Ríos Garza in silence - some of the crying softly.

Mothers and other relatives await more solid answers. They have been on watch for three months, going each week to the prosecutor's office to hear about whatever progress had been made. But they only found frustration when there was no news. Today, after going to the prosecutor to ask that they be informed before the media and disappointed that the press had found out about the discovery of the grave before them, some returned to their neighborhood in Tepito. Gathered in the shop owned by the grandmother of one of the abductees, Jerzy Ortiz, they said goodbye to one another before going to their separate homes to rest.

María Teresa Urrutia, Ortiz's maternal grandmother, was taking care of her newborn great granddaughter. She did not believe the bodies were the kids who had disappeared. "Thank God. It doesn't look like it's them," she said. Her daughter, Leticia Ponce, the 16-year-old's mother, and other women had been at the grave site since that morning. It remains unclear whether they saw or found out anything that supports Urrutia's certainty.

Other family members were asking whether it was as difficult to identify the bodies as the prosecutor made it out to be. In the last few months they have had moments of anger, exhaustion, hope, and desperation. Today is different. They seem scared.

In the first few weeks after the abduction the case unleashed a media frenzy and had great political repercussion because a crime of such caliber had never taken place in the downtown area.

There has been no news about the whereabouts of the captured or the reason for the abduction. The discovery of the grave that the prosecutor has attributed to the work of Mexico's Attorney General's Office took place Wednesday afternoon.

Until now the case has been characterized by its lack of conclusive answers from the investigation and for the widespread proliferation of hypotheses and rumors. Two weeks ago one of the 17 alleged kidnappers was arrested. According to the chief prosecutor they took the 12 young people away in private cars on that Sunday morning. The man in custody said at least three of the kidnapped had been taken to Veracruz where they were killed. Authorities have not confirmed this account.

Since the case began two of the club's owners have been detained. Another was found dead in the province of Morelos, south of the capital. The body was reduced to ashes and showed signs of torture.

The government suspects that this mass kidnapping was the result of a turf war between rival gangs for control of the retail drug trade in hip downtown areas and that those gangs are from Tepito, where the majority of the abductees - seven men and five women between ages 16 and 34 - were from.

This is not the first time cadavers have turned up in Tlalmanalco. A kidnapping crew called Los Aboytes buried at least 9 victims there in 2010. A local police officer stationed at the gate of La Mesa ranch acknowledged this phenomenon:

- "Can we say that this is not an unusual occurrence?"

- "Well, yes. It's more like it's becoming a habit."

At 5 p.m. and 24 hours after the discovery, the excavations continue. The spokesperson from the prosecutor's office outlined the situation: "This is rough."

Translation: Dyane Jean François