ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Sixty rotting bodies have been found at a shuttered crematorium near Acapulco after neighbors complained to authorities about a foul smell coming from the building, officials said Friday.
The bodies, including those of men, women and children, were discovered Thursday evening during a raid at the facility on the outskirts of the Pacific resort city.
The bodies were "perfectly embalmed," according to a statement from the state prosecutors' office. Many of the remains had been heavily doused with quick-lime powder, apparently to reduce the odor of rotting flesh.
Guerrero state prosecutor Miguel Angel Godinez said the bodies were between 6 months and 2 years old. He said the crematorium had stopped operating one year ago, but had stopped paying taxes three years ago.
Authorities have said they are investigating the case as a possible fraud by the funeral home, suggesting operators may have accepted bodies for cremation without actually performing the service.
Funeral home operators who had dealings with the crematorium told prosecutors the facility had closed last year, after it allegedly went bankrupt or failed to pay creditors. Authorities listed the owner of The Cremaciones Pacifico crematorium as Guillermo Estua Zardain and said an international search request had been issued for him.
The bodies were taken to a local morgue for testing to establish their identities, and funeral homes in Acapulco were asked to supply lists of all the bodies they sent for cremation since 2013.
Authorities initially said Friday that 61 bodies had been found but later lowered the count to 60 without offering an explanation for the change. The state of the jumbled, sheet-covered bodies found at the facility may have contributed to the difficulty in making an accurate count.
The prosecutors' statement said the case was being investigated under possible charges of abuse of corpses and improper burial. There was no mention of any homicide investigation under way.
Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, has been plagued by drug gang violence, killings and the discovery of dozens of bodies in clandestine graves.
The gender, ages and embalming of the corpses appeared to rule out any possible link to the disappearance of 43 college students who allegedly were rounded up by corrupt police in central Guerrero state on Sept. 26 and handed over to a drug gang.
All of the disappeared students were young male adults, and it is unlikely the gang would have gone to the trouble of embalming their corpses.
The students last were seen in Iguala, about 105 miles north of Acapulco. Relatives have cast doubt on the federal government's theory they were killed and their remains burned at a trash dump. Very few remains— just bits charred bones and teeth — were recovered, and DNA testing has linked only one piece of the remains to one of the students.
Guerrero's violence has become so bad that classes at many schools in Acapulco were cancelled in recent weeks because attacks against teachers and students had left many fearful.
On Friday, federal police announced they had arrested a drug gang leader blamed in some of those school attacks. The suspect, Ronaldo Mendoza, allegedly targeted teachers for extortion.