A new independent study is the latest forensic evidence to rebut the Mexican government’s claim that the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students were burned in a garbage dump, lending credence to claims by human rights groups that authorities have conspired to cover up the truth to conceal their own complicity.
The 43 teacher-trainee students at the Ayotzinapa school disappeared Sept. 26, 2014 while en route from the violence-plagued state of Guerrero to attend a commemoration ceremony in Mexico City. The government’s official version of events asserts that local police apprehended the students, who had commandeered a bus to travel to a protest, and handed them over to the gang known as Guerreros Unidos, who authorities claim killed the students and burned their bodies in a garbage dump nearly 20 miles south of the town of Iguala. Their remains, they contend, were later dumped in the San Juan River near the town of Cocula.
Forensic evidence, fire investigations, and satellite images have repeatedly cast doubt on the government’s claims.
Another scientist, Australian-based researcher Jose Torero, conducted an experiment using pig caracsses to represent human bodies, Science magazine reported Tuesday. Torero concluded that the immense size of a blaze necessary to burn 43 people was simply not possible in the dump, as each pig carcass added to the inferno decreased its strength, rather than fueling it. A fire big enough to consume 43 bodies, Torero concluded, would've required nearly 60,000 pounds of wood, and there is no evidenced that the dump contained such volume.
The government's official narrative has been challenged repeatedly, and ferociously, by family members of the 43 students, human rights advocates, and independent experts formerly involved in the case on behalf of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Forensic analyses done on packages of ashes, which federal investigators said they collected from the San Juan River, failed to link the evidence definitively to the 43 victims.
Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor announced Tuesday that the Ayotzinapa investigation has expanded to look into the role of state and federal police, finally acting on calls from family members and independent experts to do so. Special prosecutor Alfredo Higuera told Reuters that investigators took 100 new statements from 19 federal police officers and 39 Guerrero officers in recent weeks.
Throughout the ordeal, family members and supporters continue to protest the government and demand a thorough investigation as the two-year anniversary of the mass disappearance approaches. Relatives of more than 28,000 missing people in Mexico rallied Tuesday in Mexico City to pressure authorities to act decisively by passing new legislation to address the explosion in violence.
The 43 Ayotzinapa students has become an emblem of the crisis of forced disappearance and government corruption in Mexico and attracted widespread international attention. Human rights defenders have stressed that, as a symbolic case, justice for Ayotzinapa is key in the broader fight against systemic violence, forced disappearances, and impunity in Mexico.