A mother who dug in a Mexican mass grave to find the 'disappeared' finally learns her son's fate

Authorities have finally identified one body recovered from a mass grave in Mexico's Veracruz state.

When she first saw the desolate stretch of coastal swamplands, Griselda Barradas said she felt sure that her harrowing search had finally ended.

“When I arrived, I had the feeling that here I would find my son,” recalled Barradas, whose son, Pedro Huesca, 30, disappeared almost four years ago.

Huesca, an investigator for the Veracruz state district attorney’s office, and his assistant were waylaid by armed men on April 15, 2013, in the city of Cardel. Neither was ever seen again.

But investigators using DNA evidence finally determined that Huesca’s body and that of his assistant, Gerardo Montiel Hernandez, were among the remains found in recent months in a series of clandestine graves outside the city of Veracruz, in an area known as Colinas de Santa Fe.

The two are the first positively identified victims from the mass gravesite, where volunteer diggers — mostly widows and mothers of the missing, including Barradas — have spearheaded an extraordinary effort that has thus far led to the discovery of the remains of more than 250 people in 125 separate graves, activists say.

The searchers began digging last summer after receiving a tip about the site, apparently from someone knowledgeable about the illicit activity. The tipster provided a rough map with crosses marking where people had been interred, often buried in black plastic trash bags.

The area was apparently used for years as a dumping ground for criminal gangs, including drug cartels like the Zetas, which control much of the illegal trafficking in Veracruz state. Relatives suspect that corrupt authorities in the state, working in league with criminal elements, were fully aware of the macabre traffic back and forth to Colinas de Santa Fe.

Last week, the mass grave made international headlines when the state district attorney, Jorge Winckler, told the Televisa network that 250 skulls had been unearthed in the sprawling field. He called for national and international aid to help identify the remains unearthed from what likely will end up being the largest mass grave found in Mexico.

“Veracruz is an enormous grave,” he said. Digging continues.

Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs has yielded tens of thousands of victims. Many are classified as desaparecido — disappeared, people who vanished without a trace.

Officially, Mexican officials acknowledge some 28,000 disappeared, some dating back to civil unrest in the 1970s. Activists say the number is likely higher and has swelled during the decade of the drug wars.

The ranks of the vanished include many with no known link to criminal gangs. They may have been kidnapped for ransom, robbery or revenge, or caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were victims of mistaken identity.

Relatives of the disappeared, like Barradas, have long complained that Mexican authorities were not responsive. Most have endured maddening rounds of visits to police stations, morgues, hospitals and shelters seeking missing loved ones.

The official indifference, they say, reflects an insidious reality: Police and other law enforcement authorities have been implicated in illegal abductions, often in cahoots with gangs.

Facing institutional apathy, frustrated relatives across the country have taken up picks and shovels and started to dig into the earth in search of any clue to the fates of their kin. Searchers in recent years have found scores of clandestine burial grounds, from Mexico’s desert north to its subtropical south.

“Imagine, the same police who turned my son over were at the scene of the crime and took us to notify authorities!” recalled Barradas, still finding the scenario hard to believe.

Two men have been arrested in connection with her son’s disappearance, but Barradas says she considers them lower-level operatives, not the bosses who ordered his killing. She believes her son’s slaying was linked to his investigation of criminal activities in Veracruz.

Article A mother who dug in a Mexican mass grave to find the 'disappeared' finally learns her son's fate compiled by www.latimes.com