'It Was Like A Quicksand, But Filled With Bodies'

Many times, the victims in Mexico's drug war simply disappear. Just a few miles outside this quaint tourist town filled with silver jewelry shops, Mexican authorities discovered where some ended up.

For months, maybe for years, feuding drug mafias have unloaded their bound-and-gagged victims from pickup trucks and car trunks and thrown them down a deep, dark hole. It is one of the most macabre spectacles in a drug war that each week brings news of greater barbarities.

For the past year, locals here reported rumors of strange vehicles on the road at night. And in May, the Mexican military arrested some gunmen who revealed under pressure the existence of a mass grave, which is the largest ever found in Mexico.

It does not look like much from the surface. A simple concrete-block building, tagged with a crawl of graffiti, covers the entrance to a ventilation shaft designed to feed air into nearby silver mines. The mines have been closed for three years by striking workers demanding better pay from the owner, one of the biggest corporations in Mexico.

Subterranean killing field
State investigators rappelled down the 15-foot-wide shaft through darkness to reach the bottom, 50 stories down, where they found a cold, dripping-wet cavern filled with noxious gases. As they panned their headlamps around the cave, they found a subterranean killing field. Initially, they thought there were 25 dead, then 55. But as they struggle to reassemble the bodies at the morgue in the capital city, they think they have found the remains of 64 people.

"It was like a quicksand, but filled with bodies," said Luis Rivera, a young chief criminologist, who was one of the first to descend into the mine.

"We were stepping on them," Rivera said. "It was a very challenging working environment."

The recovery of the remains took five days, and the work of identifying the dead has just begun, a task made more difficult by the fact that some cadavers were mummified, others were dismembered by the fall and at least four of the victims had been decapitated.

"There are headless bodies, but some of the heads don't match the bodies," Rivera said.

Based on examinations of wounds, investigators said it also appears that many of the victims were alive when they were thrown down the mine shaft.

A few might even have survived the fall before they succumbed to injuries.

Medical examiners have identified only eight bodies so far. One was Daniel Bravo Mota, a Guerrero state prison director who had gone missing in late May.

As Mexico fights a U.S.-backed war against the powerful criminal mafias, the news headlines continue to numb. The media reported on the mass grave for a few days and then moved on.

But increasingly, the violence is reaching popular tourist spots — safe zones that before seemed off-limits to the killers.

In the resort city of Cancun, authorities last week uncovered the decomposing remains of 12 people lying in nearby sinkholes, known as cenotes. Earlier, they had discovered six others. Three were found with their hearts removed. Some had the letter "Z" carved onto their abdomens, a clue perhaps left by the paramilitary drug cartel known as Los Zetas.

In the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta, the governor, Ney González Sánchez, abruptly suspended the school year three weeks early as anxious parents, upset by rumors and threats on social media outlets such as Twitter and YouTube, demanded action but feared attacks on children.

The hotel zone in Acapulco has been the scene of hours-long gun battles between the military and cartel members, who have used grenades in the fights. A cartel leader was found and killed by Mexican marines in a luxe condo in colonial Cuernavaca. In Michaocan, where tourists flock to see the annual migration of monarch butterflies, cartel gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal police officers, killing 15 of them two weeks ago.

Taxco was supposed to be a safe haven. Built to mine silver and developed in the early colonial period by the soldiers of conquistador Hernán Cortés, Taxco today is a hill town of red tile roofs, restaurants with sweeping views and lots of shops selling silver jewelry to no one these days.

A few blocks from the central square, neighbors declined to speak much about an attack in which military forces, acting on a tip last week, killed 15 cartel gunmen at an apartment house on a quiet street. The street-level apartment, its windows shot out and walls pocked with bullet holes, still smells rank with blood.

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  • by Richard Location: USA on Jul 14, 2010 at 03:10 PM
    Tejana, you are so correct! I think that the right answer is not to limit the restriction on immigration to Mexicans, but to completely eliminate immigration altogether. We are taxed (both figuratively and literally) enough by the endless "wars" on drugs, illegal immigration, and terror. Let's try something new: how about "lets close the door and clean up our own house first"? I'm not in favor of placing blame on ANY government except our own for allowing, nay, encouraging the problems both domestically and abroad. What happens then in (name your favorite smack-down country here) then becomes that country's problem, not ours. Tejana, many of our country's previous problems were caused by people from specific countries; take for example the Italian or Russian Mafias, the Japanese Yakuza, etc. Quit getting your panties all in a wad because the culprits just happen to be the same country of origin as you. If the shoe fits... it fits! Just saying.
  • by Thebes Location: Santa Fe, NM on Jul 14, 2010 at 10:50 AM
    This is all fueled by the USA's "war" on some drugs. If smuggling were not profitable there would be no smugglers. Right now smuggling narcotics and illegals is immensely profitable, and between the blood and the bribes no Mexican official can do anything about it. End the "war" on drugs and it will immediately end this violence.
  • by Sam Location: Kitty Hawk on Jun 25, 2010 at 01:03 PM
    This is exactly why I will never go back to Mexico ever again. I've been to Cabo, and to Cancun, and will never go back, considering the garbage that Mexico has turned into. No wonder why you have so many people trying to get here, regardless if they are doing it legal or illegal. Just shoot the ones trying to come over illegally.
  • by Tejana Location: Greenville on Jun 25, 2010 at 10:47 AM
    Folks, please. I get so frustrated with the "Mexicans" getting blamed for everything that's wrong with the economy & society. There are worthless thugs & criminals that are here LEGALLY! Surely everyone reads the news, crime occurs in every color. As far as the comments regarding Mexicans taking everyone's jobs.....well, that's a load of bull! Everyone who is able-bodied and has some sense, can obtain some type of gainful employment. The only factor that prohibits a person from working isn't education, disability or lack of job opportunities. It quite simply is LAZINESS! Racism is the most overplayed card in history! It is the most used excuse for people who choose not to correct their own behaviors, beliefs, etc.....
  • by Kathryn Location: eastern NC on Jun 25, 2010 at 07:13 AM
    to waddell-O'bama is to blame for the years of illegal immigration that has saturated this country with drug dealers and thugs? you need to get with the program and while you're at it, get a history book. another comment regarding the republicans getting rich off the backs of illegal immigrants, that's only partially true. democrats who employ illegal immigrants get rich as well. With the case of immigration, there is a lot of blame to go around but pointing fingers solves nothing. i am a democrat and in regards to immigration, i don't think either side has offered a descent solution to the problem.
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Jun 24, 2010 at 08:57 PM
    Susan: cc doesn't read at all apparently. I guess we're supposed to believe that bodies were stacked up in the mine shaft 100 to 200 years, even though it only closed 3 yrs ago. I guess we should also believe that the examiners are too stupid to know the difference btwn modern and antique clothing and other items found there, and don't have a clue how old a body is by rate of deterioration. Re OSOC, I both find him hilarious and since you mentioned it would also happily vote for him. lol You're right about cc though.
  • by waddell on Jun 24, 2010 at 06:47 PM
    nosama is being blamed b/c he is to blame, get with the program
  • by Susan Location: Greenville on Jun 24, 2010 at 05:49 PM
    CC- learn to proof read please and thank you. Your lack of proof reading and grammar skills could possibly be why you feel as though Mexicans drive better cars than you. Just saying. I would love to know *where* this mine shift is. It's implied at the end to be in Taxco, but that's the last paragraph. Thank you WITN. Oh and Obama Snake Oil, I find it HILARIOUS you want to blame every problem on Obama and communism and blah blah blah. Please, do us a favor and stay out of politics. You clearly do not know what you are talking about. Thank you as well.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Jun 24, 2010 at 03:44 PM
    cc, because Obama is in charge of enforcing the borders, he is the CIC. This problem amplifies every year and its time. Bush tried to fence off the place, Obama stopped it. Data Man, this ain't a republican problem, it is an American problem and when your man steps up, he might get some respect. Instead of seeing if Arizona did wrong, he placed a suit against them. You gettin it brother? There are some of us who would do those jobs that Americans will not do, but there is not opportunity. Check out the unemployment in just our state. If you are black, its more like 20%. If you are doing so well with Obamas regime, I suggest you help a family with your church.
  • by cc Location: gviile on Jun 24, 2010 at 02:01 PM
    Why when something major comes on news Obama name is in it. Who in the hell created this mass before he became President? I bet the bodies been there 100yrs if not 200.All illegal Mexicans needs to be back in their home town w/o any doubt. Hell we as Americans cannot go over their country and take charge like these Mexican have in the surroundings counties. They drive better cars than us as, Legal citizens that's been working all our lives. Not to mention the house some of them stay in..
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