CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — Mexican prosecutors say they have arrested 12 people in connection with the slayings of 11 young women whose skeletal remains were found near the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez early last year.
The suspects include alleged drug dealers, pimps and small store owners. They allegedly belonged to a gang that forced young women into prostitution and drug dealing and then killed them when they were "no longer of use," the prosecutors' office for the northern state of Chihuahua said in a statement late Tuesday. The 10 men and two women face charges of human trafficking and homicide.
The killings had raised fears that serial-style killings had returned to Ciudad Juarez, where over a hundred women were killed in such crimes in the 1990s and early 2000s. The latest round of deaths appeared to be different, apparently involving forced labor and prostitution, but no less chilling.
Three of the suspects ran a modeling agency, a clothing store and a small grocery.
"These businesses were used by the gang as a 'hook' to offer young women jobs. Once they obtained the information they needed from the women's' job applications, they used different techniques and other people to kidnap them or pressure them into forced prostitution, and the consumption and or sale of drugs," the state attorney generals' office said.
"Once the women were no longer useful for their illegal activities, they decided to kill them and abandon their bodies ... in the Juarez Valley," just east of Ciudad Juarez.
In past cases in Ciudad Juarez, prosecutorial and police misconduct was so prevalent that the mothers of dead or missing girls doubted authorities' identification of their daughters' remains and the arrest of suspects in those cases.
But in this case, mothers and activists said Wednesday they are sure that the suspects arrested this week participated in abducting their daughters.
Maria Garcia Reynosa, the mother of Jessica Leticia Pena Garcia, who was 15 when she disappeared in 2010, said she obtained video showing her daughter entering one of the suspects' businesses, a boot shop, looking for work.
Garcia Reynosa said she had to do much of the investigative work herself, but that prosecutors finally listened to her and followed up the leads she provided on a hotel where she believed her daughter had been held. Unfortunately, it was too late by then; Jessica Leticia had already been killed.
"I gave them everything on a silver platter, and these dogs didn't do anything," she said of the original investigators.
Finally this year, the state agreed to create a small team of investigators devoted to focusing on the murders.
"This was done with the creation of the investigative agency, our presence and the efforts of the mothers, who were the ones who provided leads from the beginning," said Norma Ledesma, leader of the advocacy group Justice for Our Daughters. "They (the mothers) carried out their own investigation."