The remains of the first of 43 Mexican college students missing since September were identified on Friday, rocking the country and indicating the other disappeared students were murdered and burned by a gang at the orders of a corrupt mayor.
Argentine forensic experts identified Alexander Mora Venancio, 19, by a bone fragment discovered among charred remains in a plastic bag.
Witnesses informed investigators that local police kidnapped the students, who attended a rural teacher's college in the state of Guerrero, in southern Mexico. Then, the police gave the students to a cartel on orders from Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. None of the students has been seen since September 26.
Authorities say they suspect the students' bodies were cremated at a landfill before being put in plastic bags and dumped into a river.
The group was likely abducted in a confrontation with police while trying to steal buses for a demonstration. The students rejected budget cuts to their publicly financed school, say authorities. The college has a history of radicalism, and at least six students and bystanders were killed in the original conflict.
Eighty people—including 44 police officers—have been arrested, and 16 more are sought in connection to the case, according to Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam.
Abarca has been charged with six counts of aggravated homicide, one count of attempted homicide, and is in federal prison as the accused "mastermind" behind the disappearances, say authorities.
Additionally, the Guerrero governor has taken a leave of absence after citizens accused him of responding too slowly to the crisis. Ten days passed before federal authorities intervened.
Emergency management and notification programs
Disbelief and disenchantment
Anger over the government's response to the disappearances resulted in demonstrations and protests across the nation.
"Government lies—that is all they do," says Alexander's father, Ezequiel Mora. "They never give us complete answers about investigations, about missing people or murders."
Corrupt police have plagued the country for years, but these allegations come on the tail of another case that sparked protests across the country over the summer. In June, three soldiers were charged with the homicide of 22 people. Experts say both the current and former administrations failed to hold law enforcement officials accountable.
Although the new evidence supports the mayor and cartel theory, parents of the disappeared have not given up.
In a Mexico City protest on Saturday, one missing student's father said, "My son, wherever you are, I'll keep looking for you, even if my heart is breaking by the news."
"If these murderers think that with a DNA match of one of our boys, we are going to stop and cry, we want to tell them that they have been mistaken, that after today, this day of action will continue until we find the remaining 42 alive," says Felipe de la Cruz, spokesman for the affected families (Villegas/Archibold, New York Times, 12/7; Archibold, New York Times, 10/6; Shoichet/Romo, CNN, 12/8; Al Jazeera, 12/7).
Next in Today's Briefing
Berkeley student protests turn violent over the weekend