Mexican authorities says drug gang members have confessed to killing 43 students from a teachers college in the country’s south and described a grisly disposal of the bodies — burning them on a pyre and then pulverizing teeth and bones to prevent the remains from being identified.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, speaking at a news conference in Mexico City on Friday, played a video purporting to be three gang members confessing to the killings, The Associated Press reports. Another video, the AP says, “showed hundreds of charred fragments of bone and teeth that had been dumped in and along the San Juan River” near the town of Cocula.
Authorities recovered black plastic garbage bags containing ash and bones. Karam said the remains matched what authorities were told by the suspects, who described in detail how they loaded the students into two trucks, killed them, dismembered and burned their bodies and then tossed bags full of remains into a river.
The bizarre case allegedly began when the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, ordered police to attack the students.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that authorities believe Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, “ordered local police to intercept and do away with the students, from a rural college for the poor, who were en route to Iguala and might have planned to disrupt a party and speech by Pineda.”
The newspaper says: “The case soon revealed the deep infiltration by drug gangs of police and City Hall in Iguala, about 80 miles south of Mexico City, and in other municipalities in Guerrero state. The governor, Angel Aguirre, was forced to resign amid the scandal, which has also handed President Enrique Peña Nieto his worst security crisis in nearly two years of government.”
Six students were killed in the Sept. 26 police assault and 43 others were allegedly handed over to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang. Authorities believe the police told the gang that the students were members of a rival trafficking group.
NPR’s Carrie Kahn says that at Friday’s news conference, Karam admitted that he cannot positively say the remains are those of the students, but he said he can say with certainty that the three new suspects killed the 43 students.
“The high level of degradation caused by the fire in the remains make it very difficult to extract the DNA that will allow an identification,” Karam said at a news conference.
“What I can tell you with certainty [is that] there was a homicide of many people,” he said. “The statements of [the suspects], the work of the experts, what they found in each one of the tombs, the certainty of where the garbage bags were … I have no doubt that there was a mass homicide.”
More than 70 people have been detained in the case so far, including Abarca and Pineda, who were captured Tuesday after weeks on the run.