Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Mexico — Thirty-one bodies have been exhumed by authorities from two clandestine graves in western Mexico, officials said Thursday. The first grave was found on February 1 in the town of San Isidro Mazatepec in Jalisco state, a region hit by violence linked to organized crime. A second grave was found after several days of investigation and the extraction of bags containing bodies.
“We have already counted 31 victims,” Jalisco state prosecutor Luis Joaquin Mendez told reporters.
Jalisco, which is controlled by the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel, is among the Mexican states most heavily impacted by organized crime violence. Last year, 301 bodies were discovered in the state in 41 clandestine graves, and 544 bodies were found in 2020, the highest number to date.
Mexico’s homicide rate has tripled since 2006 — when an intensification of the government’s war on drug cartels triggered a spiral of violence — from 9.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants to 28 in 2021.
Joaquin Mendez, the Jalisco prosecutor, said authorities had sufficient evidence to identify about half of the bodies found this week so they can be returned to their families.
Civilians are often caught up in the killing. As of late last year, more than 100,000 people were officially missing across the country. Mexican police and other authorities have struggled for years to devote the time and other resources required to hunt for the clandestine grave sites where gangs frequently bury their victims.
That lack of help from officials has left dozens of mothers and other family members to take up search efforts for their missing loved ones themselves, often forming volunteer search teams known as “colectivos.”
In 2018, CBS News’ Haley Ott spent a day with the members of one colectivo in the Mexican state of Nayarit, just north of Jalisco. Every member of the group had lost a loved one, and they met twice every week to hunt for burial sites, relying largely on tips from community members.
One of the group members, María, told CBS had been looking for her son for months, since he was grabbed off a street and thrown into a van as she ran to try to reach him.
“They had taken him. He was in a truck a street away,” she said. “Like I have my son, others have their children, their siblings, their spouses, their parents. There’s every kind of person. That’s why we’re here; to search.”
Over the last few years, even the mothers searching for their missing children have been targeted by the cartels. At least five were murdered in 2021 and 2022.