A little over a month ago, 43 students from the third division Chilpancingo Hornets soccer club were kidnapped from buses in Iguala, Mexico and were not heard from since. The Mexican government has been making headlines since the incident, as citizens have been demanding answers and the return of the missing students.
While there was no concrete evidence on whether or not the students were alive or kept hostages, authorities have discovered human remains that they believe to belong to the students, over the course of the past month, at a mass grave site on a hill in Pueblo Viejo.
"A bed of branches and tree trunks was made, on which the bodies of the victims were laid and a flammable substance was used," Inaky Blanco, the chief prosecutor of violence-plagued Guerrero state, said.
Now, authorities in Mexico have declared the 43 students to be dead, according to local media outlets. Jesús Murillo Karam, from the Attorney General's Office, told the media that the three suspects — Patricia Reyes, El Pato and Agustín García Reyes — have admitted to killing the students upon the orders of their leader.
The exact series of events reflects a gross abuse of power and a devastating loss for many families in Mexico. According to CNN, the students were mostly young men studying to become teachers at Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa who were protesting unfair hiring practices of teachers on Sept. 26 when they were rounded up by local police, upon the direction of the mayor of Iguala. The students were turned over to gang members to be killed — they were shot, cremated, and some of the remains were dumped in the local San Juan River.
"They didn't just burn the bodies with their clothes, they also burned the clothes of those who participated," said Murillo. "They tried to erase every possible trace."
It should be noted that the exact identities of the bodies are not known and cannot be known until DNA tests confirm they belong to the students. Identifying the bodies will be a struggle since the burned body parts will make extracting DNA difficult. Since DNA evidence has not been provided, many parents of the students are holding out hope and calling the declaration inconclusive.
"I have to identify, to do everything in my power, to identify, to know if these were the students," Murillo said to reporters.
Authorities have arrested Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, who allegedly told then-Iguala police Chief Felipe Flores Velasquez to arrest the students because their demonstrations would interfere with an event. Investigators are still looking for Flores and have arrested over 70 people, many of whom are police officers.
"With firm determination, the government will continue the efforts for a full accounting of the incident," said Mexican President Peña Nieto about the missing students. "The capture of those who ordered it isn't enough; we will arrest everyone who participated in these abominable crimes."