They haven’t been seen since.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said at a news conference Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca ordered the students stopped to keep them from disrupting an event hosted by his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda. Local residents said she was planning to run for her husband’s mayoral seat this summer and there was bad blood between the students and mayor.
About a year ago, they trashed Abarca’s office in protest. They blamed him for the killing of a well-known leftist political figure, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, he has since denied any involvement.
On Sept. 26, they again traveled to Iguala to protest and raise money for their school. They were stopped by police, who opened fire on them, killing a total of six people. Others were allegedly handed over to a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, which was told they were members of a rival crew.
Gang leader Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado “approved the actions to, quote unquote, defend his influence over the territory of Iguala,” Murillo said.
A body was later found — face skinned and eyes gouged out.
Casarrubias has since been arrested.
Murillo said the mayor and his wife had connections to the gang, which allegedly gave the couple some $230,000 a month and paid police another $50,000 to pad their paychecks, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The two are now reportedly fugitives, hiding from law enforcement.
“We have issued warrants for the arrest of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, his wife Mrs. Pineda Villa and police chief Felipe Flores Velazquez, as probable masterminds of the events that occurred in Iguala,” Murillo said.
The incident gained international attention earlier this month when a mass grave was uncovered outside the town piled with more than two dozen charred bodies. Many feared it held the remains of the students, but initial DNA tests suggested the bodies were not theirs. They still have not been identified. Authorities are investigating nine such graves in the area.
The students attended Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, a college more than three hours south of Iguala. When they arrived in Iguala on Sept. 26, officials assumed they planned to protest, and Abarca allegedly gave an order to stop them. Police blocked a bus filled with students and took them away. Officers opened fire on other buses headed back to their town, Ayotzinapa.
“We ran in the other direction,” a witness, who called himself Angel, told Mexican news station Radio Formula. “You could hear cries and moans and the bursts of gunfire that kept going.”
In the following days, more than a dozen were found alive, but 43 were declared missing.
On Wednesday, demonstrators set fire to Iguala’s town hall, protesting the students’ disappearance. They marched in Mexico City and elsewhere around the country.
The Mexican government is offering a $110,000 reward (1.5 million pesos) for information leading to their discovery, BBC News reported.