Six bodies and one survivor found in search for kidnapped teens in Zacatecas, Mexico

Only one youth, whose identity has not been confirmed, survived and is in the hospital with multiple head injuries

A woman holds up a sign with pictures of the seven kidnapped teens in Zacatecas.Adolfo Vladimir (CUARTOSCURO)

The horror never ends in Mexico. Searchers in the north-central state of Zacatecas have found the bodies of six of the seven teenagers who were kidnapped early Sunday morning in Villanueva, as confirmed to EL PAÍS by the state official Rodrigo Reyes. Only one of the youths, whose identity has not been revealed “out of respect for the families,” has survived and is being treated at the State General Hospital for head injuries and fractured nose bones.

This youth is now “under the protection of law enforcement officials and accompanied by a psychologist,” according to the Prosecutor’s Office. The same helicopter that sighted the survivor also located at least three bodies, apparently lifeless, in an area “difficult to access, since there are no roads.” When the officers reached the site, they found six bodies. Their relatives are identifying the remains.

The seven teenagers were kidnapped in the early hours of Sunday by a group of armed men. The victims’ identities are Jorge Alberto René Ocón Acevedo, 14; Óscar Ernesto Rojas Alvarado, 15; Diego Rodríguez Vidales, 17; Héctor Alejandro Saucedo Acevedo, 17; Sergio Yobani Acevedo Rodríguez, 18; Gumaro Santacruz Carrillo, 18; and Jesús Manuel Rodríguez Robles, 18. The motive for the crime remains unclear, as is the identity of the organized criminal group behind it.

Police arrested two teenagers on Tuesday who “could be related to the disappearance,” said the Zacatecas state attorney general, Francisco Murillo, at a news conference on Wednesday. The two suspects, said to be from the state of Durango, were arrested in Genaro Codinas, a municipality 40 miles from Malpaso, where the seven youths were kidnapped.

At 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, a group of armed men in several vehicles burst into the ranch El Potrerito, owned by Hector Alejandro Saucedo Acevedo’s parents, where the seven young men were resting. They had spent Saturday night together and were sleeping over. Three of them were first cousins, the rest were close friends because they studied together at the local high school. The commando fired in the air to frighten them and took the teenagers away, still barefoot, according to the father of one of the victims, who spoke with this newspaper on condition of anonymity.

“The authorities are just 100 or 200 meters from the ranch from which they were taken. They didn’t hear the shots, they didn’t hear anything. They sent a state officer after 8:00 a.m., and he showed up without a weapon, without protection gear, nothing. All the village residents in nearby homes heard the shots, it can’t be possible that [the authorities] didn’t hear them,” protested the father.

The victims’ relatives have no doubt that the crime was originally meant as a kidnapping-for-ransom job. During Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, they blocked Federal Highway 54, which connects Zacatecas with Guadalajara, Jalisco, a common practice used by relatives of missing people to put pressure on the authorities. “They are children, they are all students. They tried to extort us, but we did not agree to give them the money, that is why we are demonstrating,” said the father, asserting that he had received videos from the kidnappers in which the kids can be seen walking “up a hill.”

The Public Prosecutor’s Office contradicts this version of events with a euphemism: it claims that it was not an abduction but a “deprivation of liberty” because, according to this account, no one asked for a ransom. Relatives of the victims reject this theory. The search operation involved more than 300 soldiers from the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), the National Guard (GN) and police officers from the different communities of Villanueva. But the efforts arrived too late, said the families of the victims.

The case is reminiscent of the kidnapping of five other young people last August in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. The event shocked the country because of the particular cruelty and brutality shown by the kidnappers, who released a video showing the five childhood friends being forced to torture each other.

Disappearances in Mexico now number more than 100,000, and less than 1% of crimes are solved, according to a study by the organization Impunidad Cero.

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