Enforcers for one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels executed three film students and dissolved their bodies in acid, Mexican authorities said Monday.
The three students were last seen in March being forced into a car by men dressed as police officers in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. Investigators searched for more than a month without success for clues about where 25-year-old Javier Salomón Aceves Gastélum and 20-year-olds Marco Garcia Francisco Avalos and Jesús Daniel Díaz had been taken.
On Monday, the Jalisco state prosecutor’s office revealed the students’ grisly fate.
After being tortured and executed, “subsequently their bodies were dissolved in acid so that no trace of them remained,” the state prosecutor Raul Sanchez said, according to Reuters.
The case of the missing students became a national outrage in Mexico and drew protest from the filmmaking community, including Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro. Angry students took to the streets in Guadalajara and Mexico City, demanding that authorities find the kidnapped young men and return them to safety.
“We’re students, not criminals,” they shouted. “Will I be next?”
At a press conference Monday, prosecutors laid out their theory of what had happened to the film students. A gang of gunmen from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), western Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, confused the young men for members of a rival gang in the area, investigators said.
The students had been working in a house they were told belonged to another student’s aunt. Instead, the building was a safe house for gang known as the “Nueva Plaza” cartel, and it had been placed under surveillance by CJNG, according to prosecutors.
“Without knowing it, the students were in a place of grave risk, watched by a criminal cell of the Cártel Nueva Generación,” the Jalisco attorney general’s office said, according to the Washington Post.
On March 19, the three students, along with a fourth classmate and three other young people, were driving in the area when one of their cars broke down. Then, two pickup trucks carrying six heavily armed men pulled alongside the group, authorities said.
The gunmen forced Aceves Gastélum, Francisco Avalos and Diaz into one of the pickups and drove them to a nearby house used to interrogate victims.
“It is here that they begin to beat one of them,” chief investigator Lizette Torres said in the news conference.
During the interrogation, the enforcers beat one of the young men so severely that he died. As a result, “they had to execute the other two,” Torres added.
Drug cartels in Mexico often kidnap, torture, and dismember rival gang members, sometimes leaving the bodies in public places as a warning to potential competitors and authorities alike. They have also been known to dissolve corpses in acid to completely “disappear” their victims.
Mexico has been wracked by record-setting violence in recent years as established cartels battle each other and upstart gangs for control of drug trafficking routes to the lucrative U.S. market. The number of homicide cases in the country spiked by 25 percent between 2015 and 2016, and by 23 percent from 2016 to 2017, reports Business Insider.
From January through March of 2018, there were 6,553 homicide cases — a new record — and 7,667 murder victims.
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