The search for 43 students who went missing in southern Mexico two weeks ago took a dark twist on Tuesday, as officials announced that several bodies found recently in clandestine graves did not belong to the missing kids.
Facing dozens of TV cameras from local and international media, Mexico’s attorney general said that 28 charred bodies found in mass graves near the city of Iguala on Oct. 4 did not belong to any of the students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college who have been missing since Sept. 26.
“The bodies that we found in the first set of graves [near Iguala] do not have DNA strands which match the samples given to us by the families of these young men,” Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo told reporters.
“We will not rest until we find these kidnapped youth, and those who are responsible for the crime,” Murillo added.
Jailhouse confessions led Mexican investigators to suspect that the 43 missing students were detained by Iguala municipal police after they hijacked three buses in a protest. Investigators believe that police handed the students over to a group of drug traffickers who executed them and buried the bodies in clandestine graves.
But students have been skeptical of the police account and have demanded that independent forensic experts confirm the identity of all bodies found during the investigation.
Officials also announced on Tuesday that they detained 14 more police officers in connection to the case. The officers were from the city of Cocula, which is just 15 miles from Iguala. To date, a total of 36 police offices have been arrested, as well as several other suspects.
Prosecutors said that Cocula policemen helped the Iguala police detain the students and hand them over to drug traffickers.They were implicated by members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel who police detained on Oct. 5
“Members of the Cocula police department participated in the attack,” said Tomas Zeron, the director of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency.
“They changed the numbers on the patrol cars in which they detained students so that they would not be recognized.”
Students in Ayotzinapa have staged several protests over the past three days in which they have hijacked delivery trucks and burned government buildings, in what they say is an effort to pressure the government to find their missing classmates.
Some students told Fusion that they were not surprised that the bodies found in the first set of graves near Iguala did not belong to their colleagues. They say that their home state of Guerrero is dotted with mass graves that are a result of years of violence between drug gangs.
“We knew from the beginning that those were not our classmates,” said Uriel Ortiz, a student at Ayotzinapa who has acted as a spokesman for the school.
“Our colleagues who have been looking into the issue were told that the corpses had boots on them,” he said.“We never wear boots when we go to protests, we usually wear sandals and sneakers.”
Officials still have to identify a second batch of bodies that were found in clandestine graves near Iguala on Thursday.
Classes have been suspended at Ayotzinapa since the students disappeared. In the meantime students have conducted several independent searches for their missing colleagues.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.