Analyzing 100,000 bone fragments of suspected murder victims of organized crime is no easy task, authorities in the northern state of Coahuila have discovered.
Torreón-based Grupo Vida, an organization formed by parents of missing persons, uncovered an additional 3,000 fragments Saturday in a field in the municipality of Matamoros, just east of Torreón, after receiving a tip-off about the location of a mass grave.
It is uncertain how many people the skeletal remains belong to.
State prosecutors said they were sending the bone pieces to a laboratory to determine whether they match the genetic profiles of missing people in the state.
But whether they will ever be identified is doubtful, considering the difficulties laboratories have encountered in the past in their analysis of the large number of fragments they have received from the state.
To date, the Coahuila Attorney General’s office (PGJE) has only received 129 DNA profiles from the approximately 100,000 bone fragments found in recent years. Of the 129, only 19 have led to the successful identification of victims.
José Ángel Herrera, the prosecutor who heads the disappearances division of the PGJE, admitted that it was a challenge to identify the fragments because most of them are so badly burned.
In its most recent discovery, Grupo Vida also found dental remains, clothing particles and pieces of weapons and ammunition.
A spokesperson for the group, Silvia Ortiz, said that its previous discoveries indicated that bodies had been burned for hours before the carbonized bones were broken into small pieces.
She said that group members would return to the site where the latest discovery was made because they hadn’t yet completed their revision or started digging to search for more remains. All the fragments found Saturday were uncovered.
Ortiz, whose daughter disappeared 13 years ago, agreed that the huge number of bone fragments made the identification process difficult because there are “thousands and thousands and the cost is very high.”
She added that there was also a need to follow up on any discoveries made. Three skulls that were found in good condition in 2015 were sent to a scientific division of the Federal Police for analysis but her group was not informed of the outcome, she said.
Violent crime has plagued Coahuila in recent years, especially between 2007 and 2013 when, according to a recent report, the powerful drug cartel Los Zetas gained near complete control of the state.
A massacre in the town of Allende, about 50 kilometers southwest of Piedras Negras, left around 300 people dead in 2011 while Los Zetas also used a prison in the border city to dispose of bodies and kill kidnapping victims.
Disappearances began to surge with the 2006 drug war but government data shows that almost 18,600 people have disappeared in Mexico since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012.
A new forced disappearance law came into effect last month that will also fund the creation of a National Search Commission to better coordinate efforts to find missing people. Meanwhile, the Coahuila government has its own plans to establish a DNA database to help identify victims.