MEXICO CITY (AP) — Some of the families of 43 college students missing in southern Mexico since September say desperation and a lack of confidence in the government drove them to appeal to the leader of a drug gang for help in locating their sons.
After months of investigation, Mexican officials concluded a different drug gang killed and incinerated the young men. But six months after the disappearance, and with only one of the missing identified through a bone fragment, parents are asking the leader of a rival gang to share what he knows.
A banner hung Tuesday near Iguala, the city where the students disappeared, asks Santiago Mazari Hernandez, the alleged leader of Los Rojos gang, to "help us find our sons." Mazari had seemingly offered assistance to the families through his own signs hung in February.
"We are desperate and wherever the information comes from we will accept it, but it has to be true, too," Epifanio Alvarez, father of missing student Jorge Alvarez Nava, said Wednesday.
Alvarez said the families have no confidence in the government and are turning to anyone for help. "It is as if there is no government," he said.
"We even put the phone number of a father there so that whoever has information can call us, pass on a tip or something," Alvarez added. As of Wednesday afternoon they had not received a call, he said.
An official at Mexico's Interior Department, which is in charge of domestic security and political affairs, declined to comment specifically on the move by the parents, but said the government does not recognize any member of a criminal organization as a valid participant in such matters. The official could not be quoted by name due to agency policy.
According to the government's account, students from the Rural Normal School at Ayotzinapa travelled to Iguala on Sept. 26 to steal buses. Before they could leave the city, Iguala police confronted them under orders from the mayor and opened fire, killing six people.
The police later turned the students over to members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, which took them to a garbage dump outside Cocula, prosecutors say. The students were killed, their bodies burned and the remains tossed into a nearby river, according to the federal investigation. Extensive forensics testing has been able to identify only one of the students.
Among the 104 people arrested and interrogated by authorities were alleged members of Guerreros Unidos, who reportedly said they believed the students had been infiltrated by members of Los Rojos, which was locked in a bloody turf war with Guerreros Unidos.
The students' families and their supporters have questioned the government's version of events and remain unconvinced that their loved ones could be reduced to ash in the way the government describes.
The invitation to the Rojos' leader was not a move coordinated among all of the families, but rather came from some especially desperate members of the group, Meliton Ortega, the father of a missing student, said Tuesday.
Parents were in the area to distribute flyers asking for anyone with knowledge of what happened to come forward, he said.
The intention was "to invite people, if they know anything about the students, to come forward with the information," Ortega said. "That is what happened today, more than asking criminal groups for help."
"That happened because of their desperation," he said of the sign appealing to Mazari.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report.