Update December 6, 2014: France 24 retracted their report on missing middle school students in Cocula, Mexico and issued an apology alleging they found discrepancies in the witnesses' version of events. The French channel issued the following statement:
"In a TV report broadcast on November 26, a woman identified as “Rosa” from the southern Mexican city of Cocula told FRANCE 24 that her 15-year-old daughter and about 30 other students were kidnapped by a criminal group on July 17. After verifying the report with several sources, FRANCE 24 found the information was reliable enough to be broadcast. But questions have since emerged about the version of events recounted by Rosa. FRANCE 24 has therefore decided to remove the report from its website."
The journalist behind the story, Laurence Cuvillier, did not respond to Fusion's request for comment.
Mexico is reeling again from news that 31 middle school students reportedly went missing months before the disappearance of the 43 college students from Ayotzinapa last Sept. 26.
The news broke Wednesday — in France, where news channel France 24 reported that 31 students from the Justo Sierra Middle School vanished on July 7 in Cocula, the small town in Guerrero where authorities recently found a mass grave while searching for the missing 43 college students from Ayotzinapa.
The mother of one of the middle school victims told French journalist Laurence Cuvillier that a group of armed, masked men took her daughter and 30 other students as the kids were coming out of school on the last day of classes before summer recess. The French TV channel claims other witnesses confirmed the testimony off-camera, adding that the kidnappers were reportedly dressed in navy blue uniforms and drove what appeared to be squad cars. In the interview with French TV, the mother —identified as “Rosa”— said the families of the missing teenagers have remained silent about the incident because they were threatened by the criminals who nabbed their kids.
In the interview, Rosa said her husband was kidnapped “for a few hours” and got one of his fingers cut off — apparently as a warning to keep quiet about his daughter's disappearance.
Cuvillier, the French journalist, told Efekto Noticias that the testimonies she gathered from the various families suggest that the kidnappers of middle schoolers arrived in "five police vans, but were not wearing any uniforms, just blue clothes."
Ruben Figueroa, a Mexican human rights activist, told Fusion he "doesn't know whether this testimony is true, but the nation's situation certainly inclines people to believe that this took place." He added, "Mass graves have been discovered in states like Veracuruz and Guerrero and that this is no longer a surprise in Mexico." Figueroa says Mexico's political crisis will only escalate if the reports of kidnapping are confirmed.
The Mexican Attorney General's Office could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
Meanwhile, more graves containing human bones and skulls were found this week near Iguala, in an area known as La Laguna.
According to Mexican news site Animal Politico, the Attorney General’s Office in Guerrero said it was not notified of the alleged 31 new disappearances. The report said there is no mention of the middle school students either in the National Registry of Missing or Disappeared Persons.
During the search for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students, authorities revealed that the police forces of the municipalities of Iguala and Cocula were on the payroll of the criminal gang Guerreros Unidos and often acted as the muscle of this cartel splinter cell. The mayor of Cocula and the police chief have since been detained.
The search for the students’ remains and the hunt for the perpetrators led to the discovery of 11 mass graves. The remains of a missing Ugandan priest and a few other corpses were identified by a team of Mexican and Argentinean forensics experts, but so far none of the bodies of the 43 students have been found.
Other charred human remains found in a trash dump in Cocula have been sent to a lab in Austria for identification.