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Five Mexico kidnap victims among 13 in mass grave

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

At least five bodies unearthed from a mass grave near Mexico City were identified Friday as part of a group of 12 youths kidnapped from a downtown bar in May.

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 there was enough evidence to confirm that five belong to those who vanished from the Heaven bar in broad daylight steps from the city's iconic Reforma Boulevard three months ago.

Additional forensic tests will seek to identify the eight other bodies.

Families of victims wept outside the Mexico City prosecutor's office as they gathered for a meeting with agency chief Rodolfo Rios, but some later said they did no trust the authorities and would hire independent forensic experts from Argentina to confirm the victims' identities.

"How can you trust a system that lies to you? Until I see my daughter's body, until I see an investigation not involving the federal attorney general's office, I won't believe it," said Carlos Ruiz, father of 25-year-old Gabriela, whose death was confirmed.

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 Maria Teresa Ramos, the grandmother of 16-year-old Jerzy Ortiz, who was not among those whose identities were confirmed.

The 12 people, 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 US embassy.

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 US border and western states.

Police said they found the bodies during a weapons search at the ranch some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the capital. They found a 9mm handgun, a rifle and five handcuffs.

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

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

Lorena Piedra, the victim's sister, said the family now doubted Aaron was still alive.

"They said there were 13 bodies. We no longer have any hope," she told AFP.

Prosecutors have linked the mass abduction to a dispute between two local gangs known as La Union and Tepis, but Mayor Miguel Angel 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. Jerzy Ortiz is the son of Jorge Ortiz Reyes, alias "The Tank," who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2003.

The teenager worked in stalls managed by his 66-year-old grandmother, using the long arms of his 1.85-meter (6.1-foot) frame to lift tables and hang T-shirts of rock and roll bands such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica.

His cousin, 26-year-old gastronomy graduate Penelope Ramirez 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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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130824/five-mexico-kidnap-victims-among-13-mass-grave-0