Iguala massacre: Mexico says 43 students were murdered on cartel orders

The 43 Mexican students who disappeared four months ago were murdered on the orders of a drug cartel who mistook them for members of a rival gang, the government said on Tuesday, finally confirming the deaths of the trainee teachers.

Parent of one of the students skeptical of government's claim

A relative holds a picture of one of the missing students in front of a banner with the photos of the missing during a press conference by family members of the disappeared students, in Mexico City on Tuesday. (Eduardo Verdugo/The Associated Press)

The 43 Mexican students who disappeared four months ago were murdered on the orders of a drug cartel who mistook them for members of a rival gang, the government said on Tuesday, finally confirming the deaths of the trainee teachers.

Their disappearance on the night of Sept. 26 in the southwestern city of Iguala led to massive street protests in Mexico and international condemnation of its security situation, embarrassing President Enrique Pena Nieto and plunging his administration into its biggest crisis.

Until now, the government had said only that the students were almost certainly murdered after clashing in Iguala that night with corrupt police officers, who handed them over to members of local drug gang Guerreros Unidos.

There's no doubt that the students lost their lives, their freedom and were then incinerated and thrown into the Rio San Juan.- Jesus Murillo, Mexico's attorney general

"There's no doubt that the students lost their lives, their freedom and were then incinerated and thrown into the Rio San Juan," Attorney General Jesus Murillo told a news conference, referring to a river by the town of Cocula, near Iguala.

Murillo has said the gang members suspected of killing the students had been so thorough in the destruction of their remains that it was difficult to identify them. The remains of only one of the missing students has been identified so far.

The mayor of Iguala and his wife were subsequently arrested as two chief suspects. The case has become notorious as an illustration of the nexus between organized crime and politics widely believed to exist across much of Mexico.

The attorney general's office said Felipe Rodriguez, an arrested member of Guerreros Unidos, had confessed to being given the order by one of his bosses to execute the 43 youths, who studied at a nearby leftist teacher training college.

"The students were identified by the criminals as members of the rival gang in the region," said Tomas Zeron, head of the criminal investigation agency at the attorney general's office.

Parents of the students accused the government of trying to close the case before it had been properly solved.

"We don't have enough evidence to accept this," said one of parents, Epifanio Alvarez.

The government said the gangsters believed the students had been infiltrated by a gang known as Los Rojos.

The attorney general dismissed that accusation against the students and said the investigation was continuing.

Murillo, who is seeking to have Rodriguez sentenced to up to 140 years in prison, also rejected media reports that the army was involved in the disappearances.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.