Autopsy of Debanhi Escobar shows she was sexually abused and murdered

A second opinion requested by the 18-year-old’s family, which EL PAÍS has seen, rules out prosecutors’ theory of an accident in the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico

Elena Reina
Debanhi Escobar
Debanhi Escobar in a picture taken from social media. im.jeny09 (RR.SS.)

Debanhi Escobar, 18, was sexually abused and murdered, according to a forensic report requested by the family, to which EL PAÍS has had access. This opinion, which reviews the first official autopsy, rules out the hypothesis of an accident that the Nuevo León Prosecutor’s Office had been suggesting in recent weeks. The autopsy has determined that the young woman, who went missing on April 9 and whose body was found almost two weeks later in a motel water tank on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, was hit on the head several times with a “blunt object” and died before falling or being dropped into the tank. “This was a violent homicidal death,” the report concludes.

The body also presented “traces of a violent sexual relationship.” The Debanhi case has become a symbol of the disappearances and murders of women in Mexico and has opened deep cracks in a collapsed justice system.

The Prosecutor’s Office had added this information to the investigation, although the details about Escobar’s death had not been revealed until now. This newspaper repeatedly tried to reach this institution for comment, but obtained no reply. Since the discovery of the body on April 21, the Prosecutor’s Office has only reported on the cause of death: traumatic brain injury. However, no details were provided about whether or not she had suffered abuse, if she had drowned or had already fallen dead into the water tank of the motel. The absence of official information made it possible to justify the hypothesis that Debanhi had fallen into that water tank all by herself. While the Escobars were burying their only daughter, more questions began to arise. It was then that her father, Mario Escobar, requested a second autopsy — dated April 25 — and later handed it over to the authorities.

The second forensic opinion —which analyzes the images of the medical examination of the corpse, diagnostic tests and conclusions— indicates that the body of Debanhi Escobar showed signs of sexual abuse, something that the first autopsy did not mention. Neither did the Prosecutor’s Office, which has had the independent report in its power since May 2. “The body shows traces of a vaginal, violent and recent sexual relationship,” the report states. “This is deduced from having found violaceous ecchymosis and hematomas [bruises]” in the outer area of the genitals.”

The report concludes that the young woman died before her body ended up in the water tank, without assessing how it got there. This conclusion coincides with the first autopsy in the cause of death, due to hard blows to the head, or in the medical jargon, “intracranial hemorrhage that caused a neurogenic shock [damage to the nervous system] and respiratory arrest.” The most serious injury, which caused death, was a hard impact on the right frontal region of the skull. But the second autopsy goes further.

Debanhi had more than one head injury, as the conclusion of the first public autopsy seemed to suggest. “Violaceous ecchymoses on both sides of the frontal region of the skull, on the right and left eyelids, on the left side of the nose, on both lips, above the right ear and the right retroauricular region,” the document states. According to the manner of death described by the report, “the craniofacial contusions are of external origin to the body and because they are intense, repeated and with different angles of impact, it follows that they were caused by another person and that it was a violent homicidal death.” The report specifies that the blows must have been delivered with a “blunt mechanical agent.”

Debanhi Escobar did not drown. The tank had a water depth of 90 centimeters, according to the authorities at a press conference. The forensic report notes that the body must have been face down in the water, since the back appeared “dark and dehydrated,” while the front was “softened” by the water. But “liquid inside the trachea and bronchi” was not found, ruling out out death by drowning. “She was already lifeless at the time of entering the water at the spot where the body was found.”

The report also ruled out death by suffocation or strangulation, and said there were no fractures or other injuries (besides those to the head) to suggest that Escobar might have fallen.

The silence of the Prosecutor’s Office

Mario Escobar publicly denounced the accident hypothesis presented by the authorities shortly after the discovery of the body. And he has not stopped publicly insisting that his daughter was “murdered.” But until now, the contents of the second forensic report had not been revealed.

Debanhi disappeared on April 9, shortly after the discovery of the body of another woman, 27-year-old María Fernanda Contreras. The two cases, added to the dozens of disappearances of women throughout the state, have opened a deep crisis that the Prosecutor’s Office is trying hard to contain. The scandal, which has created a climate of national outrage, has cornered Governor Samuel García, who took office in October of last year. Feminist groups on one occasion set fire to state government headquarters and authorities are being pressured to solve not only the case of Debanhi, but also that of Yolanda Martínez (who went missing on March 31) and 57 more women who disappeared this year and have not yet been found. In total there are more than 1,799 missing women in Mexico, according to the National Search Registry.

Negligence and errors by the Nuevo León Prosecutor’s Office during the search for Debanhi Escobar have led to the dismissal of two prosecutors. The motel was searched up to four times before the body was found. And key footage from security cameras on the compound failed to come to light in the initial stages of the investigation.

Morbid fascination with the Debanhi case has spawned numerous television appearances in which the friends who accompanied her to a party that night, as well as the driver who abandoned her on the road that leads to the motel, blamed the young woman for her own death. “She was not fully in control of herself,” said one. Other media outlets even suggested that she had “something” in her bag, which they preferred not to mention out of respect for the family.

Meanwhile, not a single arrest has been made in all this time, underscoring the impunity that prevails in Mexico, where 95% of cases are never solved.

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