Yet another mother searching for her disappeared child has been killed in Mexico, the fourth murder of a volunteer search activist in Mexico since the start of 2021.
Activists said Tuesday the victim was Esmeralda Gallardo, who led efforts to find her missing 22-year-old daughter.
The activist group “Voice of the Disappeared in Puebla” said Gallardo was killed in the city of Puebla, east of Mexico City. Local media reported she had been shot to death.
Prosecutors in Puebla confirmed the killing, and pledged to solve the case “as quickly as possible.”
But the group called on authorities in a statement to “leave aside the superficial speeches and guarantee the safety of the victims, and the rights and safety of the families of the disappeared.”
Gallardo’s daughter, Betzabe Alvarado Gallardo, disappeared in the low-income neighborhood of Villa Frontera in January 2021.
In August, search activist Rosario Rodríguez Barraza was killed in the northern state of Sinaloa, home to the drug cartel of the same name.
The motive in that and other killings remained unclear; most searchers say publicly they aren’t looking for evidence to convict killers.
The volunteer search teams, usually made up of mothers of Mexico’s over 100,000 missing people, say they only want to find the bodies of their loved ones, to mourn and properly bury them.
Faced with official inaction or incompetence, many mothers are forced to do their own investigations or join search teams which, often acting on tips, cross gullies and fields, sinking iron rods into the ground to detect the tell-tale stench of decomposing bodies.
The searchers, and the police who sometimes accompany them, usually focus on finding graves and identifying remains — not collecting evidence of how they died or who killed them. Search groups sometimes even get anonymous tips about where bodies are buried, knowledge probably available only to the killers or their accomplices.
But the mainly female volunteers often recount getting threats and being watched — presumably by the same people who murdered their children, brothers and husbands.
In 2021, in the northern state of Sonora, searcher Aranza Ramos was found dead a day after her search group found a still-smoking body disposal pit. Earlier that year, volunteer search activist Javier Barajas Piña was gunned down in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico’s most violent.
After the killing in August, a group of search groups known as “collectives” issued a statement demanding protection for searching mothers.
“No mother should be killed for searching for her children,” the coalition wrote. “On the contrary, the government is obligated to ensure their safety in continuing their searches, as long as thousands of cases of disappeared people continue to pile up.”
In 2018, a mother searching for the remains of her son with a team in the western state of Nayarit told CBS News the gruesome work gives her a sense of purpose and helps her deal with her loss.
“We feel like a family because no one understands the pain that we’re living,” she told CBS News.
Most of the victims are thought to have been killed by drug cartels, their bodies dumped into shallow graves, dissolved or burned. Drug and kidnapping gangs often use the same locations over and over again, creating grisly killing fields.
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