MEXICO CITY (AP) — A group of Argentine forensic experts says it has determined there is no biological or physical evidence to conclude that 43 students who disappeared in southern Mexico in 2014 were incinerated at a trash dump as government investigators initially said.
The report released Tuesday by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team said the dump in Cocula, Guerrero state, had been the site of multiple fires at various times. But it said that while the remains of at least 19 people were found near the dump, there is no evidence that the remains were from the missing students.
The government has said the students were killed by a drug gang, their bodies incinerated, and their charred bone fragments gathered up and tossed in bags in a nearby river. Some of those bone fragments have been linked by DNA testing — in one case positively, and in another case tentatively — to two of the missing students.
But because the forensics team was not present when a bag containing the fragments was recovered, it cannot vouch that those fragments came from the dump. The team also said that largely undamaged plants found at the supposed site of the pyre would have been killed or been severely damaged by a fire of such intensity.
"So far the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team has not found scientific evidence to establish any correspondence between the elements recovered in the Cocula dump and the disappeared students," team member Mercedes Doretti said.
It is the second independent report to reject the Mexican government's main finding from a little over a year ago about what happened to the students, who were taken by police in the nearby city of Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014, and allegedly handed over to local members of a drug gang for slaughter. They remain missing.
In September, experts from the Inter American Commission of Human Rights said a separate independent forensic investigation established that they could not have been burned at the dump.
Federal prosecutors said Tuesday in a statement that they had received the Argentine team's report and noted they previously agreed with the Inter American Commission to form a new team of forensic experts to conduct another analysis of the dump. The new analysis has not yet taken place.
The students' disappearance attracted local and international opprobrium and has been a stain on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto.
The Argentine experts' investigation spanned more than a year and examined diverse elements found at the site, from human remains to plants, excrement, insects, rocks, glass, bullet shells and tires. It also incorporated satellite imagery.
The report concluded that while there were multiple fires there over the course of years, none was large enough to have burned 43 bodies.
In 2015, then Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam claimed his investigators had arrived at a "historic truth" about what happened to the students: that they were killed by drug gang members, burned at the dump and their ashes put into sacks and thrown into a nearby river.
"That's why we don't have any faith in the institutions, because they have just told a bunch of lies," said Blanca Nava, the mother of missing student Jorge Alvarez Nava.
"All the public officials who took part in this lie should be punished," said Hilda Legideno, the mother of Jorge Antonio Tipaza.