More than two months after they disappeared, concrete evidence is beginning to emerge on the fate of 43 college students whose case has caused a political crisis in Mexico. At least one of them has been identified among charred remains found several weeks ago near a garbage dump, family and government officials say.
Though there was no official announcement Saturday, relatives and fellow students at the Rural Normal School in Ayotzinapa said experts had confirmed the identity of missing student Alexander Mora, a teenage farmer whose classmates called him "The Rock" for his determination.
"He was a classmate who was very strong, very persevering in whatever he had as a goal," said student leader Omar Garcia. "It's a big loss."
The families were given the information late Friday by an Argentine team of forensic experts working on behalf of the relatives and with the Attorney General's Office, relatives said. Mora's parents were surrounded by members of the school community in their hometown of El Pericon in an area of southern Guerrero state known as the Costa Chica.
Garcia said they received the news "with a lot of courage, valor, dignity and determination."
"When his father, Ezequiel, heard the news, the only thing he told us is that he wants justice," Garcia added.
The identification confirmed what Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told parents in November: that the students rounded up in a conflict with police had been killed and incinerated by a drug gang. The horrific story with no witnesses and barely a trace of the 43 young men led parents to discount the story, saying they would keep searching and expected to find their children alive.
Parents of the missing marched with thousands of people Saturday evening in a previously planned protest in Mexico City, descending from buses with sullen faces, most declining to speak to reporters.
"The parents will not rest until we have justice," said Felipe de la Cruz, father of one of the missing students.
Noting that the identification is for just one of the 43 disappeared, he said, "If they think one confirmation will leave us simply to mourn, they're wrong."
The students went missing Sept. 26 after confrontations with police in the Guerrero city of Iguala that killed three students and three bystanders. Murillo Karam has said they were attacked by police on orders of Iguala's then mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, who has since been detained after going into hiding. Authorities are holding more than 70 people in the case, which also forced the governor of Guerrero to resign.
Prosecutors say the students were later turned over to a drug gang, which killed them. In announcing the finding of the remains, the attorney general said Nov. 7 that some detainees had told officials that they burned the 43 bodies at a dump site and threw their bagged-up ashes in a river.
Murillo Karam told the parents that the bone fragments left after the burning would be almost impossible to identify.
Those fragments were sent to the University of Innsbruck in Austria, which was recommended by the Argentine forensic team as having one of the most experienced laboratories for identifying deteriorated remains. The identification of Mora came from Austria, said student David Flores, who was at the protest. The Argentine forensic experts couldn't be reached Saturday.
The case has ignited citizen indignation across Mexico and abroad over the fact that the students disappeared at the hands of a corrupt local government and that federal authorities took 10 days to intervene.
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets, some calling for President Enrique Pena Nieto to resign. The case has come to signify the abuse of authority and corruption that is engrained in the Mexican system and that all Mexicans experience on a regular basis.
Marching to the protest site Saturday, people filled streets in central Mexico City shouting, "Justice," ''We want them alive," and "Pena out."