GRISLY details have been revealed of the terrifying last moments of 43 students “disappeared” by Mexican drug gangs and rogue police allegedly on the orders of a corrupt mayor.
They were driven to killing grounds in a dump truck so tightly packed that 15 of the young men died of suffocation. The others were then apparently shot and their bodies stacked on a bonfire fuelled by petrol and diesel, wood, plastic and old tyres.
Their suspected killers even burned their own clothes to destroy evidence, they said.
The confessions came from gang members arrested as part of an inquiry into the crime which has shocked even Mexico, a country used to drug war killings and barbarity.
In a sombre presentation, attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam laid out what investigators now think happened to the students who have not been seen since being attacked by police on 26 September in the southern city of Iguala.
He played video of purported gang members confessing to the killings and their part in them. They confess to piling their bodies on a pyre that burned for 15 hours and then wading into the ashes to pulverise, bag and dispose of identifying teeth and bones.
Another video showed hundreds of charred fragments of bone and teeth dumped in and along the San Juan River in the town of Cocula.
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Murillo Karam said the state of the remains will make it hard to positively identify those killed. Experts from Austria have been called into help. It is not known how long the process could take.
He said: “The high level of degradation caused by the fire makes it very difficult to extract the DNA that will allow an identification.”
Gang members from the Guerreros Unidos cartel said they thought the students were members of a rival gang or had been sent to disrupt a public event held by the wife of the Iguala mayor, who is alleged to have gang links. He confirmed human remains found in mass graves discovered soon after the students went missing did not include any of the 43 young men enrolled at a leftwing rural teachers college. Those graves held women and men believed murdered in August, he said.
Among the bodies found in the course of the investigation were a father and son.
By searching for reports of father-son disappearances, authorities were able to make a positive identification. Murillo Karam said the victims apparently made a call before disappearing to say they were being detained by Iguala police.
Some 74 people have been detained so far in the case.
The killings came when police, under orders of Iguala mayor Jose Luis Abarca, opened fire on students collecting donations who allegedly had commandeered buses.
Six people were killed in two clashes before the 43 students were taken away and allegedly handed over to the drug gang.
Abarca and his wife, who were captured on Tuesday after weeks on the run, are among those in custody.
Since the students disappeared, protesters have sacked or burned public buildings in the Guerrero state capital and attacked Abarca’s properties.
Parents reacting to Murillo Karam’s report said they have lost trust in the government. “As long as there are no results, our sons are alive,” said Felipe de la Cruz, father of one student. “Today they’re trying to close the case in a blatant way, which adds to our torture by the federal government.”
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