Mexican prosecutors said new evidence proves that 43 college students who went missing in September from Iguala were killed by a drug gang, as the government seeks to defuse a protest movement that has questioned officials’ version.
Local police took the students hostage and handed them over to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who killed them and burned their bodies, Tomas Zeron de Lucio, head of the attorney general’s criminal investigations unit, said at a Mexico City news conference. Evidence collected in the case is “conclusive” and includes the confession of an alleged hit man arrested Jan. 15 as well as forensic samples, Attorney General Jesus Murillo said.
“The students were kidnapped, killed, incinerated and thrown into the river,” Murillo told reporters.
The mass disappearance in the state of Guerrero has sparked protests throughout Mexico in recent months, serving as a symbol for how drug-related violence has undermined the state’s grip on law and order. Mexico has also been racked by a drug war that’s left more than 70,000 dead since 2006, according to newspaper Milenio. Another 22,000 have gone missing, the Attorney General’s Office says.
Some relatives of the students from a rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, have demanded access to army bases including one in Iguala to determine whether there was a military role in the disappearances. The government’s probe hasn’t turned up any evidence of army involvement, Murillo said.
Gang member Felipe Rodriguez admitted he ordered the murders and his alleged accomplices have also confessed to killing the students, believing the group included operatives from a rival gang called Los Rojos, Murillo said. Rodriguez was arrested this month after trying to flee to the U.S., he said.
The government probe hasn’t turned up evidence that any of the students worked for a crime gang, Murillo said.
Investigators have recovered bone fragments, gun cartridges and steel from burned tires at a municipal dump in Cocula, Mexico, where the bodies were burned, prosecutors said. Traces of gasoline and diesel fuel were also found at the site, about 14 miles from Iguala, while rocks show sign of exposure to high temperatures.
Authorities have detained 99 people in the case, among them police, Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were also involved in the crime, Zeron said. The government has six outstanding arrest warrants, he said.
The evidence presented today builds on the thesis previously outlined by authorities in November, that police kidnapped the students at the orders of the town’s then-mayor to stop them from disrupting an event featuring his wife. Murillo said Nov. 7 that evidence collected to that point suggested a mass murder.
Only one student, Alexander Mora, has been identified using DNA, Murillo said. Mora was 21. Mexico asked Innsbruck Medical University to retest human remains recovered from Cocula after earlier DNA analysis failed to determine whether the samples belonged to the students because they were too damaged by heat.