IGUALA, MEXICO—State officials worked Monday to determine whether 28 bodies found in a clandestine grave are students who were attacked by police in the southern state of Guerrero.
State prosecutor Inaky Blanco said the bodies are badly damaged and that genetic testing could take two weeks to two months to determine if they are some of the 43 college students reported missing after the violent confrontation in Iguala, located about 200 kilometres south of Mexico City.
Blanco said one of the people detained in the case had told investigators that 17 students were taken to the grave site on the outskirts of the Iguala and killed.
“As long as the identity of the cadavers has not been resolved we will continue the search” for the missing students, Blanco said Sunday.
The grave covering and the burning appeared fresh, according to one official close to the case, who was not authorized to speak to the press. But there are layers of bodies separated by tarps, the official added, indicating that some could have been there for some time.
State police and prosecutors have been investigating the Iguala city police over a series of violent incidents last weekend that resulted in six shooting deaths and more than two dozen injuries. Investigators said video showed police taking away an undetermined number of student protesters.
Authorities have presented charges against 29 people in the case, including 22 police officers detained soon after the violence. Three of the suspects are fugitives, including Iguala’s police chief.
Blanco said they are still investigating the motive for the crime, adding that some of the police have connections to a local drug cartel.
Associated Press by Mark Stevenson And Jose Antonio Rivera
Blanco said Saturday that some of those arrested provided key clues that led investigators to six unmarked burial pits on an isolated hillside about two kilometres from the nearest road. The bodies had been put in the pits on top of branches and tree trunks, which were doused with a flammable substance such as gasoline and set on fire.
Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer helping families of the missing students, said relatives had provided DNA samples that will be used to determine if the recovered remains belong to any of the students.
As investigators worked at the grave site, up to 2,000 protesters blocked a main highway in the state capital of Chilpancingo demanding justice. “You took them alive, we want them returned alive,” read a huge banner hung across the road linking Mexico City and Acapulco.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission opened its own investigation into the case for possible “serious human rights abuses,” such as extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances by Iguala city police.
The commission said in a statement Sunday that it had warned about the “delicate” situation in Guerrero, a southern state where poverty feeds social unrest and drug gangs clash over territory.