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Mexico's 43 missing students: what happened that night


Crop of California Sunday Magazine graphic

The new California Sunday Magazine has posted early its January issue story reconstructing the events of September 26, 2014, when 43 Mexican student activists disappeared in the darkness of night from the city of Iguala. They had ridden commandeered buses into Iguala, but instead of making a political showing, they were confronted by gunmen and corrupt police. Some of the students who got away were able to share some of what happened the night. The remains of the others have not been located, except for one man's ashes and bone fragments who the government says were pulled from a river.

Excerpt of the piece written by John Gibler:

On the night of September 26, 2014, in the city of Iguala [in Guerrero state], uniformed police ambushed five buses of students from the college and one bus carrying a professional soccer team. Together with three unidentified gunmen, they shot and killed six people, wounded more than 20, and “disappeared” 43 students. One victim’s body was found in a field the next morning. His killers had cut off his face. Soldiers at the 27th Infantry Battalion army base, located less than two miles away and tasked with fighting organized crime, did not intercede.


News of the attack was met initially with muted outrage, mostly because the reports out of Iguala, a highlands city of 110,000, were confusing. For several days, conflicting counts of the missing students circulated. It wasn’t until October 4, when state prosecutors announced that they had uncovered the first in a series of mass graves on the outskirts of Iguala that the national and international media descended on the region. When forensic workers confirmed that the first of the 30 charred human remains were not the missing students, anger and horror became widespread. Throughout October, marches and vigils took place across the country. In Chilpancingo, the Guerrero state capital, Ayotzinapa students smashed windows and set state government buildings on fire. In Iguala, protesters sacked and burned the municipal palace.

Although it was neither an isolated event nor the largest massacre in recent years, what occurred in Iguala has struck at the core of Mexican society. Perhaps it was the scale of the violence, or the sheer brutality, or that the victims were college students, or that the perpetrators were mostly municipal police, or that the mayor of Iguala, his wife, and the police chief were probably behind the attack, or that the state and federal governments were deceptive in their investigation and callous in their treatment of the mothers and fathers of the murdered, wounded, and disappeared. Whatever the cause — and it was likely a combination of all these reasons — it is impossible to overstate the effect of the attacks on the country. Mexicans speak of Iguala as shorthand for collective trauma. Mexico is now a nation in mourning, and at the heart of that grief are those 43 families on the Ayotzinapa basketball court and their agonizing demand: Bring them back alive.

California Sunday Magazine is delivered once a month to California newspaper subscribers in selected neighborhoods. The LA Times is one of the papers that delivers the print magazine to a slice of its readers.

Previously on LA Observed:
43 missing students have 'stunned Mexico to new levels of outrage' (video)


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