Gustavo de la Rosa, a human rights advocate and researcher at the Autonomous University in Ciudad Juarez, said most of the victims — about 8,000 — were probably involved in “the great pyramid of drugs,” meaning that they were either members of gangs, sold drugs or consumed them.
De la Rosa bases his estimate on forms that his team had family members complete when it accompanied them to claim bodies. He stresses that many of the dead were low-level operatives — recruited from the estimated 14,000 young men in 800 neighborhood gangs.
Teresa Almada, director of the Center for the Promotion of Youth, suspects that the number of innocent victims is far higher and that even those who might have had some involvement in crime were so young and inexperienced as to qualify as innocent.
“They would be recruited; they would be coerced, or forced,” Almada said.
They were cannon fodder.
“Juarez is a city of orphans,” she said.
During the worst violence, many of the bodies at the morgue were unclaimed. They were buried in common graves, their assailants unknown, as case files grew into piles on the desks of prosecutors who brought no more than four cases in 100 before a judge.
The state prosecutor said he did not have the resources to pursue all the homicides. He said that based on the federal government’s definition, homicides involving “organized crime,” meaning multiple shots fired, an ambush, use of stolen vehicles, messages left at the scene — 80 percent of the killings in Juarez — should be investigated by the federal government.
“The federal prosecutor has taken less than 1 percent of the murder cases,” Gonzalez said.
The federal prosecutor conceded that his office was pursuing “very few” murder cases in Ciudad Juarez. It appeared that the number was near zero.
There have been 580 homicides in Ciudad Juarez in the first seven months of 2012, so the city is still far from its goal to be the safest in Mexico.
The criminal organizations that brought Juarez to the brink have not disappeared. “What we have seen,” said Peniche, the prosecutor, “is these groups have moved to other parts of the state.”
Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.