Mexican investigators said Thursday they have found four burned and decapitated bodies that might be related to the horrifying case of five kidnapped youths, one of whom was filmed apparently being forced to kill the others.
Prosecutors in the western state of Jalisco said the bodies were badly burned and had not yet been identified. But the bodies were found inside a building near where the young men were kidnapped the week before and later photographed in captivity.
The decapitations also matched details of a video that shows one member of the group apparently being forced to saw off his friend’s head with a knife.
The families of the missing have said the clothing and appearance of the men seen in the photos and video matched their relatives.
The gruesome video transported Mexico back to the darkest days of drug cartel brutality in the early 2000s.
It also sparked a debate about whether President Andrés Manuel López Obrador heard – or pretended not to hear – shouted questions from reporters about the case at his morning news briefing Wednesday.
López Obrador played a recording of the previous day’s news briefing Thursday, in which no distinct question could be heard. Still, the president gave little attention to the case Thursday, spending about a minute saying the killings were “very regrettable” while spending far more time discussing baseball.
Officials in Jalisco said they were investigating the grisly video but also called for federal prosecutors to take over the case because drug cartels appeared to be involved. López Obrador said that decision was up to the federal attorney general.
The most horrifying thing about the video is not just the pair of bound, inert bodies seen lying in the foreground during the taping. It is the fact that the youth seen bludgeoning and apparently decapitating another victim appears to be himself the fourth member of the kidnapped group of friends.
A fifth member of the group might be the body found by police inside a burned-out car in the area earlier.
The young men went missing the week before while on a trip to attend a festival in the city of Lagos de Moreno, which is in an area known for cartel violence. Investigators raided a series of brick and concrete buildings on a ranch and found bloodstains on the floor and shoes scattered about.
“This makes one think the five youths were there at this ranch,” the state prosecutor’s office said in a statement Wednesday.
If confirmed, the video – which shows someone off-screen tossing the youth a brick, so he can bludgeon the victim with it – would revive memories of the most horrifying instances of drug cartel brutality, in which kidnap victims were forced to kill each other.
In 2010, the old Zetas cartel abducted men from passenger buses and forced any who refused to work for the cartel to fight each other to the death with sledgehammers.
That tragedy came to light in 2011, when authorities found 48 clandestine graves containing the bodies of 193 people in the northern border state of Tamaulipas. Most had their skulls crushed with sledgehammers, and many were Central American migrants.
The new images shared on social media have drawn emotional reactions from citizens, columnists and politicians.
“In respect for the families… I will suspend the use of my social networks for 24 hours and tomorrow (Thursday) I will have no agenda,” opposition presidential hopeful Xochitl Galvez said on social media, declaring herself “in mourning” for the young men.
“We cannot be indifferent to their pain and that of all of Mexico,” she wrote.
The suspected kidnapping and murders are “evidently linked to organized crime,” the governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro, said on social media.
“We are facing irrational, violent and direct attacks on the stability of Jalisco that demand a reaction from the Mexican state,” he added.
Last month, officials said a drug cartel set off a coordinated series of seven roadway bombs in Jalisco that killed four police officers and two civilians. Alfaro said the explosions were “a trap” set by the cartel to kill law enforcement personnel.
Mexico has recorded more than 420,000 murders since the launch of a controversial military anti-drug offensive in 2006.
It has also registered more than 110,000 disappearances since 1962, most attributed to criminal organizations.
AFP contributed to this report.