SALVATIERRA, Mexico – Search teams dug up more remains Thursday at a site in central Mexico, where 59 bodies have already been found in hidden graves last week in an area known as the Battle Cartel.
It was the largest burial site to date in Guanajuato, the state with the highest number of homicides in Mexico, although larger secret burial sites are being excavated in other parts of the country.
Particularly striking for this discovery, but also a testament to the prevailing level of fear, is that the site is located in the town of Salvatierra, not in a deserted countryside.
The head of the official National Search Committee, Carla Quintana, said in an interview with W Radio that people should have known that the bodies had been dumped there.
“This place is in a neighborhood,” Quintana said. “To get there you have to go through houses, you have to go through roads … people know.”
The sites are empty lots less than half a mile (kilometer) from the city’s main square. It is located next to the river Lerma, on the other side of which there is a park. There is a slaughterhouse nearby.
Quintana said the advice came about two weeks ago from relatives looking for the missing. He said investigators had found evidence that more bodies might be buried, so the investigation is ongoing. The goal is to retrieve the bodies, identify them and return the remains to their families, he said.
Quintana said many of the victims looked young and there were significant numbers of women. Quintana announced the finding late Wednesday, calling it “a sad and terrible discovery.”
The bodies were exhumed last week from 52 pits on a property in Salvatierra. The scene was considered dangerous enough that the army and the National Guard provided security for the excavations. The area is near the border with the state of Michoacan and is known to have a significant presence of organized crime.
On Thursday, police entered the burial site.
Leticia Valencia, the mother of a missing person, waited outside the perimeter of the police station, hoping that he would be allowed to enter to look for signs that her son might be among the corpses buried there.
“What I want to do is be allowed in, to see if I can identify any of the clothes they have excavated,” said Valencia.
Valencia’s son, José Manuel Fabián Valencia, disappeared with a friend in 2018 and has not been heard from since. It is a story of despair that is heard very often in Guanajuato.
But when photos began circulating on social media this week of excavations in the empty lot, among the items taken from the graves was a boot that Valencia believed could be her son.
This glimmer of hope – at least to find her son’s remains, and to finally be able to say goodbye to him – led her to the excavation site.
“He could be here,” he said.
Guanajuato was the scene of bloody battles between the Jalisco cartel and local gangs backed by the Sinaloa cartel.
President Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that the situation in Guanajuato was “very difficult”. He said the deployment of the National Guard in the state would at least allow authorities to reach areas previously inaccessible due to the dominance of organized crime.