IGUALA, Mexico (AP) — Security forces investigating the role of municipal police in clashes in this southern city have found burned human remains in mass graves on the edge of town, a lawyer for the families of 43 missing students said Sunday.
Attorney Vidulfo Rosales told The Associated Press said the remains were those of an undetermined number of people, and were unidentified. Relatives of 37 of the missing young people have provided DNA samples over the past several days and will be used to determine if the recovered remains belong to any of the students, the attorney said.
The students have been missing since last week in in violence that also resulted in six shooting deaths.
Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre said on Saturday that the victims had been “savagely slaughtered.”
A group of up to 2,000 protesters blocked a main highway in the state capital of Chilpancingo on Sunday demanding justice in the case and requesting donations from passing motorists for the students’ families and the school.
“You took them alive, we want them returned alive,” read a huge planner across the road that links Mexico City with Acapulco.
The father of one of the missing students expressed doubt that the remains belonged to the young people. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.
Another father, Acapulco street vendor Jesus Lopez, whose 19-year-old son Giovani is among the missing, on Sunday was getting ready to participate in a protest in the Pacific coast resort and said he hoped the remains weren’t those of the students.
Other relatives “told us that (the remains) were burned, and that they couldn’t be the kids,” Lopez said. “But we’re really nervous.”
Anger over the discovery of the graves exploded Saturday night when a group of young people from the school protested outside the governor’s Chilpancingo residence. They threw Molotov cocktails and overturned a car after state authorities told them they would not allow them to travel to the graves to determine if the bodies are those of their missing classmates.
Guerrero State Prosecutor Inaky Blanco did not say Saturday night how many bodies were in the burial pits uncovered on a hillside on Iguala’s outskirts, and he declined to speculate about whether the dead were the missing students.
“It would be irresponsible” to jump to conclusions before tests to identify the bodies, Blanco said. Officials said the federal Attorney General’s Office and the National Human Rights Commission had sent teams of experts to aid state authorities in identifying the remains.
About 100 soldiers, marines and federal and state police on Saturday cordoned off the area where the grave site was found in the poor Pueblo Viejo district of Iguala, which is about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of Mexico City.
Blanco said eight more people had been arrested in the case, adding to the 22 Iguala city police officers detained after a police confrontation with student protesters last weekend set off a series of violent incidents in the city.
The prosecutor has said state investigators had obtained videos showing that local police arrested an undetermined number of students after the initial clash and took them away.
He said some of the eight newly arrested people were members of an organized crime gang, adding that some of them had given key clues leading to the discovery of the mass grave.
Blanco said his investigators had found that “elements of the municipal police are part of organized crime.” He also said his office was searching for Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and had alerted officials across Mexico to be on the lookout for him.
The governor had charged earlier in the week that organized crime had infiltrated the city government.
Violence is frequent in Guerrero, a southern state where poverty feeds social unrest and drug gangs clash over territory.
The Aytozinapa Normal school attended by the missing students, like many other schools in Mexico’s “rural teachers college” system, is known for militant and radical protests.
State prosecutors have said the first of the recent bloodshed occurred on Sept. 26 when city police shot at buses that had been hijacked by protesting students from a teachers college, killing three youths and wounding 25. A few hours later, unidentified masked gunmen shot at two taxis and a bus carrying a soccer team on the main highway, killing two people on the bus and one in a taxi.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.