Remains Of More Than 100 Bodies Dissolved In Acid Recovered
December 5, 2012 7:52 a.m.
Investigators in Tijuana have made a gruesome discovery over the last week—but it is one that gives hope to families in Baja California whose loved ones have been kidnapped or "disappeared."
NAT SOUND UNDER, DOGS BARKING, STREET SOUNDS
Here in the neighborhood of Ejido Maclovio Rojas, Tijuana, most residents have neither electricity nor running water. On a street called Calle Cioac, at the peak of one hill, sits a small property known as "La Gallera."
NAT SOUND UNDER, STREET
La Gallera was supposedly a cockfighting ranch. Neighbors say no one's lived here for years. One man told me the people who used to come to the ranch weren't from here.
ANTONIO/ NEIGHBOR: "Si, habia mucho puros carros nuevos, cosa que.. en este pueblo, no puede andar en este carro. Y venían este tipo de carro, camionetas [grande]."
English VOICEOVER: "They were all new cars, and in this town you can't drive cars like that. And those kind of cars were coming, like new trucks."
La Gallera's hilltop location offers a panoramic view of the surrounding dusty valleys filled with makeshift homes. This is one of the poorer parts of Tijuana, isolated and largely left alone by police.
Fernando Ocegueda: "Este es un lugar excelente por…. hacer cosas del crimen organizado."
NAT SOUND UNDER; STREET SOUNDS, A CAR PASSES BY
That’s Fernando Ocegueda. He says this is an excellent place for those involved in organized crime. He's the founder of in Baja California's Association of the Families of the Disappeared.
Ocegueda: "Es importante aquí se que conozca este predio, representa mucha esperanza por muchas familias. Porque hay muchas familias que subiberon buscando sus hijos por alrededor casi 5, 6 años.."
ENGLISH VOICEOVER: "It's very important for us to know about this location, this land, it represents a lot of hope for a lot of people. There are still families looking for their sons and daughters for five, six years."
The number of people who remain missing in Mexico due to organized crime is estimated to be as high as 25,000. In the state of Baja California, Fernando Ocegueda has been leading the search for five years. His own son Fernando went missing in 2007.
This body-dumping site at La Gallera was revealed by Santiago Meza, the man known as El Pozolero or “the stew-maker.” Meza worked for drug cartels in Tijuana at the height of the city's drug violence. He dissolved bodies of people who had been executed or kidnapped in acid.
Victor Clark: "El Pozolero no es el unico, quien dissolve cuerpos en acido….
ENGLISH VOICEOVER: "The Stewmaker isn't the only one who dissolved bodies in acid… "
Victor Clark Alfaro of Tijuana's Binational Center for Human Rights says that the sites named by El Pozolero are just a few of many undiscovered mass graves across Mexico.
El Pozolero was captured in Baja in 2009, and has confessed to dissolving 300 people.
FADE IN/ NAT SOUND UNDER; DOG FOOT SOUNDS COMING & GOING, "pasate!"
Today, in front of La Gallera, soldiers stand guard behind yellow caution tape. The whole block is cordoned off. Federal officials supervise specialists brought in from Mexico City. They're carefully removing fragments of bone and teeth from the gelatinous mass of human remains.
NAT STREET SOUNDS, DOGS BARK, ETC
Fernando Ocegueda has been here, at the site, every day. Sometimes he just stands alone, smoking Marlboros and watching. Other times, families join him. After five years, the authorities know him well.
He was allowed onto the property to take photos. He describes their uncovering of the pits:
Fernando Ocegueda: "Esta contenedor donde esta… esta… estas cuerpos es una pila de 4 metros por 4 metros, de largo por ancho.."
ENGLISH VOICEOVER: "This container, where the bodies are, is a cell that is 4 meters long by 4 meters wide."
As of Friday, over 100 people's remains had been found.
NAT SOUND UNDER; street, etc.
Outside the crime scene perimeters, other people visited.
Jessica Rodríguez Epinosa and her cousin Karina Landey lost 8 family members to kidnappings. They were seized during a barbecue in Tijunana on September 21, 2007. Both women's husbands were taken.
They've been visiting La Gallera to watch the investigation's progress.
Jessica Rodríguez Epinosa: "Nosotros estamos aquí porque hace 5 años desaparecieron nuestras familiars…… nos sentimos mal, porque pues...Pues, ya, después de 5 años…. no."
ENGLISH VOICEOVER: "We are here because, for five years, our relatives have been gone. …...... We feel bad, because we wanted to find them alive. But after five years already… no."
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Although the excavation at La Gallera was supposed to end on Tuesday, it will now continue through this week, due to the amount of human remains.
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Standing in front of the site earlier this week, while a rare mix of rain and sun created a rainbow overhead, Ocegueda told me that he's hopeful.
Ocegueda: "Estamos muy contentos de que por fin, la esperanza renuación nuevamente. Y los familiars de nosotros… la esperanza es al A.D.N."
ENGLISH VOICEOVER: "We are very happy that finally, at last, we have new hope. The hope is in the DNA."
He also hopes that La Gallera can be turned into a monument to the people whose remains were found there.
From Tijuana, I'm Erin Siegal.