One of Mexico’s most horrific mass murders in recent decades has come to rest, in part, on a fragment of a charred human eye socket.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said Sunday that Austrian forensic experts have confirmed that the bone fragment is from one of 43 student teachers who went missing 10 weeks ago in a heinous crime that has shaken the country.
“The remains found at one of the scenes coincide with the genetic profile of Alexander Mora Venancio,” Murillo Karam said, naming one of the students.
Mexico’s brusque, balding attorney general provided the first solid identification to back the government’s assertion that local police in Iguala, a city in Guerrero state, had rounded up the students during the overnight period of Sept. 26-27, then turned them over to a criminal gang, which tossed their bodies in a rural garbage dump and burned them for more than half a day, reducing the bodies to ashes and bone fragments.
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A genetic laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria, compared the bone fragment with DNA taken from Mora Venancio’s father and brothers, Murillo Karam said.
“Using data from the University in Innsbruck, it was determined that the remains belong to a male with a probability a billion times higher, that’s ‘b’ for billion, of being the biological son of Ezequiel Mora Chavez and the sibling of Omar Mora Venancio and Hugo Mora Venancio than for any other unrelated person,” Murillo Karam said, referring to the missing student’s father and brothers. Murillo Karam’s use of the word “billion,” which is generally expressed as “one thousand million” in Spanish, reflected the language of the Innsbruck report, which was written in English.
Speaking for 13 minutes to the news media and taking no questions, Murillo Karam said the bone fragment from Mora Venancio was one of 17 that had been recovered either from the dump or a nearby river and sent to Austria for testing. The other 16 fragments have yet to yield positive identifications, he added.
Murillo Karam’s office released a 10-page document signed by Dr. Richard Scheithauer, head of the Institute for Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University, confirming the identification of the missing student.
Word that one of the bone fragments had tested positive for a missing student emerged following a meeting between Argentine forensic anthropologists and parents of those enrolled at the Ayotzinapa teachers college, a state institution with a heritage of forming radical leaders.
On Saturday, fellow students at the college posted a message on their Facebook page in the voice of Mora Venancio, a first-year student.
“Today, Dec. 6, Argentine experts confirmed to my father that one of the fragments of my bones was found. I am proud of you who have elevated my voice, my courage and my libertarian spirit,” it said.
Murillo Karam said authorities now have 80 people in custody related to the mass disappearance, including 44 local police officers from Iguala or the nearby community of Cocula. Those police were allegedly in league with a criminal gang, United Warriors, involved in marijuana and heroin trafficking. Sixteen other officers are still on the lam, he added.
He said investigators have identified 16 individuals who took part in the execution of the students, and five of them are detained.
“There is more evidence that I won’t mention right now because I have to communicate first, according to an agreement with the parents, with the parents themselves,” he said. “Once we’ve done that, I will present it to you.”
Media reports showed mourners pouring into the family home of the slain youth in El Pericon, a mountainous rural hamlet along Guerrero’s Pacific coastline. Like most parents of the missing students, those of the Mora family are farmers.
“His only sin was being poor, humble and wanting to be a teacher,” his father told the sinembargo.mx website before a makeshift altar in the family home.
The apparent execution of the missing students, the largest mass killing in Mexico since narcotics gangsters from Los Zetas gunned down 72 undocumented migrants in 2010, has laid bare the way that local Mexican police sometimes work openly with criminal gangs.
Why the gangsters sought to kill the student teachers has never been fully explained. One theory suggests that a bus that the students had commandeered contained a hidden shipment of opium or heroin. Another suggests some of the teachers belonged to a rival group, Los Rojos. The brutality and senselessness of the killings have only added to distress among Mexicans of the security shortcomings in their nation.