The 43 Mexican students who were abducted in southern Mexico weeks ago were killed by a gang leader and their bodies burned, Mexico’s attorney general said Friday.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said three local gang members have admitted to killing a large number of people, including the missing students.
The students, mostly men in their 20s, were studying in the rural area of Atotzinapa and commandeered a bus to travel to nearby Iguala to protest a lack of funding for their school. The buses were intercepted, and the 43 Mexican students were never seen or heard from again.
Murillo said the buses were stopped by police, who turned the students over to the Guerreros Unidos gang, a violent drug cartel known for public beheadings.
According to CNN, Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda are suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping and murders. Officials said the mayor’s wife learned that the protest would disrupt one of speaking engagements, and the mayor ordered then-Iguala police Chief Felipe Flores Velasquez to put a stop to it.
AFP published the gruesome details of what investigators believe happened next:
The bodies were set on fire down a hill from a Cocula garbage dump with gasoline, tires, firewood and plastic, in an inferno that lasted 14 hours, he said.
“The fire lasted from midnight to 2:00 pm the next day. The criminals could not handle the bodies until 5:00 pm due to the heat,” he said.
The suspects then crushed the remains, stuffed them in bags and threw some in a river.
Back in October, gang hitmen linked to Iguala’s municipal police force admitted to killing 17 of the 43 students found in the mass grave.
The hitmen said Iguala’s public security director informed them to go to the site where the bus was being held, and a Guerreros Unidos leader then told them to kill the students.
“They grabbed 17, took them to the top of a hill in Pueblo Viejo where they have clandestine graves and where they say they killed them,” said Guerrero State Prosecutor Inaky Blanco.
After the killings, the hitmen reportedly burned the bodies of the missing Mexican students beyond recognition.
“This incident is without a doubt shocking, painful and unacceptable,” said President Pena Nieto in a national address. “Mexican society and the families of the youths who are regrettably missing rightly demand that the incidents be cleared up and that justice be served.”
But the story ended up falling apart when investigators looked into the mass grave where the hitmen led them and found that the bodies were not those of the 43 missing Mexican students.
So far, authorities have arrested 74 people in connection to the likely murder of the 43 missing Mexican students.