MEXICO CITY (AP) — A border mayor's paramilitary security team and Mexican marines were behind the disappearance and murder of four people, including three American siblings, the government's National Human Rights Commission said Thursday.
Investigators determined that city officials in Matamoros, marines, and state and federal police lied in their statements in an effort to cover up the 2014 killings, a report released by the commission said.
Erica, Alex and Jose Angel Alvarado Rivera of Progreso, Texas, disappeared on Oct. 13 of that year while visiting their father in Control, a small town in Mexico near Matamoros, which is across the border from Brownsville, Texas. An acquaintance, Mexican citizen Jose Guadalupe Castaneda Benitez, was also taken. Their bodies were all found shot in the head more than two weeks later.
The commission said the four were last seen alive in the custody of marines and the Hercules unit, which provided security for then-Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar.
The report said the nine members of the Hercules team were technically Tamaulipas state police officers, but they appeared to answer only to the mayor and her lieutenants. The city paid part of their salaries and gave them special uniforms with a logo otherwise unrelated to the state police, it said.
Witnesses told investigators the three Americans and their Mexican friend were at a taco stand beneath a highway overpass around midday when marines and the Hercules team approached them. At one point a city motorcade also stopped, the witnesses said. The mayor had attended an event earlier in Control.
All four were loaded into vehicles and taken away, the witnesses said.
"Of the arrests made by public servants of the Navy and Hercules Group on Oct. 13, 2014, no record exists, nor were they presented to any authority," the commission said. "There is not even an investigation involving (the victims), much less arrest orders or a complaint against them."
Human rights investigators said they had found some men in prison who reported also being arrested by marines the same day the four people disappeared. Several said the siblings and their friend were taken to an empty lot where they were beaten and interrogated, the report said.
The prisoners told the investigators that at the lot they heard three people talking with American accents who sometimes whispered in English among themselves. Several said they recognized the fourth victim as someone they knew from their neighborhood, the report said.
The commission said the inmates also testified that the mayor arrived at some point and ordered the marines and Hercules team to turn the detainees over to prosecutors. The other prisoners were turned over to prosecutors, but not the three Americans and their friend, the report said.
A lawyer for the siblings' father did not immediately return calls for comment.
Salazar's term ended in 2016 and her whereabouts could not immediately be determined.
The commission said the federal Attorney General's Office still lists the case as "active" and it called on the local and state governments, the navy and federal police to cooperate in the investigation. The federal police force was involved because some of its officers witnessed illegal arrests and did not intervene, the commission said.
The commission also called for military prosecutors to open a case against the marines involved, who it said had not been investigated.
Mexico's navy said it has accepted the recommendations and was taking the steps recommended in the report.
The current government of the state of Tamaulipas said it also accepted the report's recommendations, and that it has implemented human rights training for police in Matamoros.
It said the case was turned over to federal prosecutors in November 2014.