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Mexican officials make 1st high-level arrest in notorious 2014 disappearance of 43 students

Mexican officials on Friday made the first high-level arrest in the notorious 2014 disappearance of 43 students, accusing a former top prosecutor of crimes in one of Mexico's worst human rights abuses deemed a state crime.

The remains of only 3 students were ever found and identified

Students from the teachers' college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, chant as they march along with family members of 43 missing students from their school, in Mexico City in 2020. Mexican officials have arrested a former attorney general in connection with the case. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Mexican officials on Friday made the first high-level arrest in the notorious 2014 disappearance of 43 students, accusing a former top prosecutor of crimes in one of Mexico's worst human rights abuses deemed a state crime.

Former attorney general Jesus Murillo was arrested at his Mexico City home.

He was arrested on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice in the abduction and disappearance of the student-teachers in the southwest state of Guerrero.

Murillo was taken to an office of the attorney general and will be moved to a Mexico City jail, authorities said.

Within hours of the arrest, a judge released 83 more arrest orders — for soldiers, police, Guerrero officials and gang members — in relation to the case, the attorney general's office said.

The mother of one of the 43 missing students protests in Mexico City in 2017. The sign reads, 'My only reason to sleep is to dream of your return.' (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

During Murillo's 2012-2015 term under then President Enrique Pena Nieto, he oversaw the highly criticized investigation into the Sept. 26, 2014, disappearance of the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College.

Errors and abuses

The remains of only three students were ever found and identified, and questions have haunted Mexico ever since.

International experts criticized the official inquiry as riddled with errors and abuses, including the torture of witnesses. President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018 vowing to clear up what had happened.

Lopez Obrador's administration has tried since 2020 to arrest another top former official, Tomas Zeron, including asking Israel last year to extradite him.

When asked about the government's move to scrutinize the past investigation, Murillo said he was pleased and was open to being questioned, local media reported in 2020.

Murillo was taken into custody wearing black slacks, his hands folded inside the pockets of a grey jacket, as a law enforcement officer with a rifle slung over his chest stood behind, an image published by local media showed.

The attorney general's office said Murillo co-operated "without resistance."

Relatives of 43 missing students hold up their fists behind photos of their missing family members at a news conference in Mexico City in September 2016. (Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

The arrest comes a day after Mexico's top human rights official, Alejandro Encinas Rodriguez, called the disappearances a "state crime" with involvement from local, state and federal officials.

"What happened? A forced disappearance of the boys that night by government authorities and criminal groups," he told a news conference.

The highest levels of Pena Nieto's administration orchestrated a coverup, Rodriguez said, including altering crime scenes and hiding links between authorities and criminals.

Murillo took over the Ayotzinapa case in 2014 and dubbed the government's findings the "historical truth."

According to that version, a local drug gang mistook the students for members of a rival group, killed them, incinerated their bodies in a dump and tipped the remains into a river.

Images of the disappeared 43 rural college students are illuminated during a candlelight vigil in front of the Mexican Attorney General's office, in Mexico City in 2015. (Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

A panel of international experts picked holes in the account, and the United Nations denounced arbitrary detentions and torture during the inquiry.

The "historical truth" eventually became synonymous with the perception of corruption and impunity under Pena Nieto as anger mounted over the lack of answers.

Murillo, who had previously been a federal lawmaker and the Hidalgo state governor, resigned in 2015 as criticism mounted over his handling of the case.

The lawyer for the parents of the Ayotzinapa students, Vidulfo Rosales, urged the government to make more arrests.

"There's still a lot left to go before we can think this case has been solved," Rosales told Mexican television.

Students hold posters with images of some of the 43 missing students in Mexico City in 2018. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

Daina Beth Solomon

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