The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mexican who led search for mass graves found shot to death

Relatives and friends attend the wake of Miguel Angel Jimenez Blanco in Xaltianguis, Guerrero State, Mexico, on Sunday. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

The man who helped lead a citizens' movement to search for hundreds of disappeared in the Mexican state of Guerrero was found dead over the weekend, authorities confirmed Monday.

For the past year, Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco had led relatives through the forested hills around Iguala, collecting discarded clothes and spent shotgun shells and probing the earth with metal rods, looking for mass graves. These spontaneous family search-parties, often done without the authorities’ knowledge, were one of most poignant displays of the consequences of drug violence in the state, where many families were too afraid of the government to report their disappeared relatives to the police.

Jimenez, 45, was found fatally shot Saturday in a taxi he owned near his home town outside the beach town of Acapulco. He worked for the politically active group called the Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (known as UPOEG), as well as a community police group.

Last winter, the tree-shaded courtyard of the San Gerardo Catholic church in Iguala had been transformed into a bustling triage center for desperate families of the disappeared. There were tables for people to report how their relatives went missing and a mobile lab to donate blood for DNA testing. Jiménez and his fellow volunteers provided a safe space for families to come forward.

"All the authorities were participating [in the criminal activity], and that's why nobody could come forward to report the crimes," Jiménez said in an interview in December. "We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of disappeared."

The public outcry after the Ayotzinapa case — when 43 teachers college students were abducted and presumably executed — created a space for other frightened families across the state to come forward. What started in November with just seven parents in a church basement quickly swelled to more than 300, as relatives filled out reports and hiked the surrounding hills looking for unmarked graves.There are an estimated 20,000 disappeared across Mexico.

At the time, Jiménez seemed hopeful that a corner had been turned, as the mayor and corrupt police had been ousted from Iguala and residents felt freer to stand up for themselves. His group of volunteers has found 129 missing bodies, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“The environment in the city is now sane,” Jiménez said. “But there are many parents who are still afraid to come forward.”

And now they may have even more reason to be.