San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Five Mexico kidnapping victims among 13 in mass grave

MEXICO CITY – The bodies of at least five of the 12 young people kidnapped from a Mexico City bar in May were confirmed Friday as among those recovered from a mass grave.

The discovery of the concrete-covered grave on a ranch southeast of the capital this week had left families of those who were abducted anxiously waiting for news on whether their loved ones would be confirmed dead.

The federal Attorney General’s Office said 13 bodies were recovered and forensics tests would continue to identify the eight other bodies, but there was enough evidence to confirm that five of them belong to those who vanished from the Heaven bar in broad daylight three months ago.

Families of victims wept outside the Mexico City Prosecutor’s Office as they gathered for a meeting with agency chief Rodolfo Rios. The relatives, who had held out hope that their sons and daughters would turn up alive, put up signs saying “What are they hiding? Who are they protecting?”

“They killed them, wretched assassins,” cried María Teresa Ramos, the grandmother of 16-year-old Jerzy Ortiz, who was not among the five whose identities were confirmed.

Those who vanished, aged 16 to 34, were taken from the after-hours bar by a group of men who whisked them away in several cars on a Sunday morning in May. The bar is a short walk from a federal police headquarters and the U.S. Embassy on the busy Reforma Boulevard.

The case has marred the city’s image as an oasis from the country’s raging drug violence. Mass kidnappings and mass graves are more common near the U.S. border and western states.

Sara Monica Medina, the federal attorney general’s coordinator of investigations, said one victim, Alan Omar Athiencia Barranco, was identified through DNA testing.

Heaven bar protest

Relatives of 12 people who disappeared in the bar Heaven protest in front the establishment on July 26. The group was kidnapped in broad daylight on May 26. Alfredo Estrella/AFP

The identities of the four others were confirmed through dental records, tattoos and a metal prosthesis. The dead included Josue Piedra, who was abducted along with his brother Aaron.

Earlier, Piedra’s mother Leticia Moreno told AFP that she was clinging to hope.

“A mother has a sixth sense, and I sense that my sons are alive,” she said.

Prosecutors have linked the mass abduction to a dispute between two local gangs known as La Unión and Tepis, but Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera insists that the bigger cartels do not operate in the capital.

Two bar owners have been arrested, while the charred remains of a third associate were found in the central state of Morelos last month in a gangland-style murder.

Most of the kidnap victims hail from the rough Tepito neighborhood, notorious for a massive street market packed with contraband DVDs and CDs, pickpockets and small gangs.

Two of them are sons of men jailed for being gang members, but their parents insist they never followed their fathers’ footsteps.

One of the missing is 16-year-old Jerzy Ortiz, son of Jorge Ortiz Reyes, alias “The Tank,” who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2003.

Jerzy Ortiz worked in stalls managed by his 66-year-old grandmother, using the long arms of his 1.85-meter (six-foot-one) frame to lift tables and hang T-shirts of rock and roll bands such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica.

“Someone said there is an 80 percent chance that it’s them (in the mass grave). I’m clinging to the 20 percent that they’re alive,” Ramos said before Friday’s announcement, wiping away tears from behind the counter of her T-shirt store, next to a pile of posters with pictures of the missing.

The teenager’s cousin, 26-year-old gastronomy graduate Penelope Ramírez Ponce, said she and her friends are now more careful when they go out at night, checking for suspicious cars outside clubs.

“Now when you go out you don’t know if you’ll return home,” she said.

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