The Searching Mothers of Sonora found more than 20 bodies in clandestine graves in a town east of Hermosillo, Mexico, this week.
The group announced the finding Wednesday on Twitter. The exact number of bodies still is unknown.
The collective, known as Madres Buscadoras de Sonora, works off tips to search for the remains of missing loved ones to bring closure to relatives. In 2019, they found mass graves with at least 42 bodies near the beach resort town of Puerto Peñasco.
This week’s discovery of at least 20 bodies in 16 unmarked graves was off a dirt road east of Highway 20 south, near the coast. The searchers uncovered bone remains, calcinated bodies and bodies in decomposition, some still in their clothes.
Patricia Cecilia Flores Armenta, in a video posted on the social media site, called for the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances to get involved in the investigation and speed up the exhumation of the bodies.
“We believe in one of these graves is my son,” Flores, the president of the collective, said.
Members of the state police, the Sonoran Attorney General’s Office, Mexico’s national guard and the Sonoran Person Search Commission, accompanied the collective to the site and confirmed the finding. The Attorney General’s Office announced that Sonora’s criminal investigations unit will start the forensic work and identify the remains. The area will remain secured by law enforcement.
The finding took place under the Third State Search Brigade, which began Nov. 20 and will end Saturday. The brigade includes the Searching Mothers of Sonora and a Baja California collective called Todos Somos Erick Carrillo, which searches for missing loved ones in the border city of Tijuana.
The Searching Mothers group posted on Twitter Friday that they found another clandestine grave in Altar, Sonora.
Families seek closure
Mexico’s National Search Commission estimates there are more than 90,000 missing people in the country today, a count that goes back to 1964. This number is likely an underestimate, considering that many people don’t make reports and several prosecutor’s offices failed to file reports in past years.
Relatives aggravated by the government’s inaction on the disappearances have formed dozens of collectives to demand answers and seek closure by searching for remains. Most of the collectives conducting body searches are led by women.
“We are not looking for the perpetrators, we just want back what was taken from us one day,” the Sonoran collective’s Facebook description says.
The Searching Mothers describe their work not only as an act of desperation, but love. They often receive anonymous tips about places where they should look.
“It’s so painful to think that the body you’re digging up could be your son,” Cecilia Flores Armenta previously told The Arizona Republic. “You try to dig it out with as much love as you can, as if it was your son, treat him in the same way.”
Despite the community’s support for their work, and their clear mission to have proper mourning, the collective has been subject to threats. Gladys Aranza Ramos, activist and member of the collective, was assassinated on July 15 after receiving death threats for searching for the body of her missing husband. Right after, Flores Armenta started receiving threats.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission in Mexico has documented at least eight assassinations this year of people doing human rights work.
In Sonora, the state’s Attorney General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting the missing-people cases.
“All the effort and sacrifice is worth it, so that the families get peace,” Flores said. “And so that we have peace as well, knowing that we’re doing good work and that God will reward us with finding our children.”
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