After four years of clinging to a version of events that few shared, the government was ordered to scrap its entire case and start over, but this time with a guarantee that the victims’ relatives and human rights advocates can direct the lines of inquiry.
The disappearance of the students at a rural teacher-training college, who were abducted in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, by police officers working with criminal gangs, has become a symbol of the violence, corruption and impunity that plague Mexico.
As their whereabouts is still a mystery — the remains of just one have been identified — the case has become a stand-in for those of tens of thousands of Mexicans who have vanished in the drug war. The sheer scale of the tragedy forced a public reckoning, if not a legal one, on the toll inflicted by the nation’s violence and broken rule of law.
From the beginning, shortly after the government began its investigation, officials hewed to a single narrative, one that families, human rights lawyers and international officials openly questioned.
In that version, infamously dubbed “the historic truth” by the attorney general at the time, the students ran afoul of a drug gang and were kidnapped by the police working on behalf of the criminal group. The students were then killed, and their bodies burned in a nearby dump, which explained why the government found practically no remains.
But that account never really explained the motive for the violent abductions, which left six people dead and 40 wounded at the scene. It ignored facts both material and suggestive, including the impossibility of creating enough heat at an outdoor dump to completely incinerate so many bodies or any indications that governmental complicity went higher than the municipal level.