More bodies were exhumed from a mass grave in southern Mexico Sunday as anxious parents of 43 students missing since a police shooting last week hoped for news about their fate.
Forensic experts have so far recovered at least 28 bodies, some of them charred, from pits discovered Saturday on a hill outside the town of Iguala, 25 miles south of Mexico City, the health secretary of Guerrero state, Lazaro Mazon, told AFP on Sunday.
State prosecutor Inaky Blanco said the corpses were too badly damaged for immediate identification, and he could not say whether any of the dead could be some of the missing college students.
He said one of the people detained in the case told investigators that 17 students were taken to the grave site and killed there, but he stressed that investigators had not confirmed the person’s story.
Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer for the parents, said prosecutors indicated that some of the remains were burned fragments and that they would be identified through DNA analysis.
Mazon earlier said it could take two weeks to identify them.
As relatives nervously waited for news, hundreds of fellow students from the missing group’s teacher training college blocked the highway between the state capital, Chilpancingo, and Acapulco, voicing anger at the authorities.
If the bodies are confirmed to be those of the students, it would be one of the worst slaughters that Mexico has witnessed since the drug war intensified in 2006, leaving 80,000 people dead to date.
The grim finding came a week after the students disappeared. Witnesses say several students, from a teachers’ college known as a hotbed of radical protests, were whisked away in police vehicles.
Blanco said members of Iguala’s police force are part of a gang known as Guerreros Unidos, which is suspected of taking part in last week's violence. The graves were found after some of the 30 suspects detained in the case told authorities about their location, he said. The detainees include 22 police officers. An arrest warrant has been issued for the mayor, who has fled.
Jose Garcia, a resident of Pueblo Viejo, a hamlet surrounded by forests and mountains, said that the region is dominated by a drug gang and that he saw municipal police officers going up the hill in recent days before authorities discovered the mass grave. “They were going up there, back and forth,” he said, pointing to a location between two mountains where the graves were found.
Juan Lopez Villanueva, an official from the National Human Rights Commission, said that six pits were found up a steep hill probably inaccessible by car.
Outside Chilpancingo, hundreds of students blocked the highway to Acapulco, holding signs reading “Fraudulent government that kills students.”
Some parents who participated in the protest lashed out at Gov. Angel Aguirre, promising war against him. He appealed for calm after the grave was discovered.
Parents said that they were shown pictures of bodies but that they did not resemble their missing children. “As parents, we reject this situation. It’s not the youngsters. We know they’re holding them alive,“ said Manuel Martinez, whose son is among the missing.
But the police’s links to organized crime has raised fears about the fate of the students in a country where drug cartels regularly hide bodies in mass graves. About 30 bodies were found this year in mass graves in Iguala alone.
“This is the land of the wicked,” said Garcia.