MEXICO — A dozen state police officers have been arrested for killing 19 people, including Guatemalan migrants, whose bodies were found shot and burned near the U.S. border late in January, Mexican authorities announced Tuesday. Tamaulipas state Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica said all 12 officers were in custody and face charges of homicide, abuse of authority and making false statements.
“In the aforementioned acts of Jan. 22, at least 12 state police officers participated,” Barrios Mojica said.
The attorney general did not say what motive the officers might have had, though corrupt local and state police in Mexico are often in the pay of drug cartels, according to reports.
Cartels in Mexico often charge migrant smugglers for crossing their territory, and kidnap or kill migrants whose smugglers have not paid or paid a rival gang.
The bodies were found piled in a charred pickup truck in Camargo, across the Rio Grande from Texas, in an area that has been bloodied for years by turf battles between the remnants of the Gulf cartel and the old Zetas cartel, CBS News reported.
Authorities have said four of the dead have been identified so far – two Guatemalans and two Mexicans. Their names have not been released by officials, but relatives of one of the dead Mexicans said he worked as an immigrant trafficker.
Of the 19 bodies examined by experts, 16 were found to be males, one was confirmed as female and the two others were so badly burned their gender had not yet been determined.
The forensic results confirmed the fears of families in a rural Indigenous farming community in Guatemala who have said they lost contact with 13 migrants as they travelled toward the United States.
The truck holding the bodies had 113 bullet impacts, but authorities were confused by the fact that almost no spent shell casings were found at the scene, CBS News reported.
Initially, that led investigators to speculate the shootings may have taken place elsewhere, and the truck driven to the spot where it was set on fire.
But Barrios Mojica said the state police officers charged in the killings knew their shell casing might give them away, so probably picked them up.
“There is growing force behind the hypothesis that the crime scene was altered, due to the absence of casings,” he said.
In describing the hours that led up to the killings, Barrios Mojica said the truck carrying the victims was apparently part of a larger convoy of vehicles transporting migrants from Guatemala and El Salvador to smuggle them across the U.S. border. He said the trucks also carried armed men to provide protection.
Barrios Mojica did not rule out that the reason for the killings may have been a dispute between drug gangs, which fight over territory and the right to charge migrant smugglers for passing through “their” territory.
The massacre is the latest chapter in Tamaulipas’ history of police corruption. Most towns and cities in the state saw their municipal police forces dissolved years ago, because officers were often in the pay of the cartels. A more professional state police force was supposed to be the answer, a belief that came crashing down with the arrests announced Tuesday.
Jan 24, 2021
MEXICO — Mexican authorities say they have found 19 shot and burned bodies near a town across the Rio Grande from Texas in an area that has seen violent territorial disputes between organized crime groups in recent years.
The Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office said late Saturday that the bodies were discovered along a dirt road outside Camargo after residents reported a burning vehicle. Authorities found two vehicles on fire, one containing four bodies and the other 15, KTLA reported.
All had been shot, but casings were not found at the site. As a result, investigators believe they were killed elsewhere.
A Camargo official, who requested anonymity due to security concerns, said the murders occurred Friday, but people had been afraid to report them.
Camargo is a major smuggling transit point for drugs and migrants. Consequently, organized crime groups covet control of stretches of the border because they make money off everything that crosses in the region.
Camargo is near the edge of territory historically controlled by the Gulf cartel and in recent years a remnant of the Zetas known at the Northeast cartel has tried to take over, according to KTLA.
In January 2020, 21 bodies, most burned, were found in various vehicles near the neighboring town of Ciudad Mier. Days later the Mexican army killed 11 alleged gunmen in the area.