Search teams continued excavating a site in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato Thursday where in the past week they have found 59 bodies in clandestine graves.
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Especially striking about this discovery, but also a testament to the prevailing level of fear, is that the site is in the town of Salvatierra, not a desolate area out in the countryside.
The head of the official National Search Commission, Karla Quintana, said Thursday in an interview with W Radio that people had to have known that bodies were being disposed of there.
“This place is in a neighborhood,” Quintana said. “To get there you have to pass homes, you have to pass streets … the people know.”
Quintana said the tip came about two weeks ago from relatives looking for missing loved ones. She said searchers have found indications of more bodies there, so the search continues. The goal is to recover the bodies, identify them and return the remains to their families, she said.
Quintana said many victims seemed young and there were a significant number of women.
Quintana announced the find late Wednesday, calling it “a sad and terrible discovery.”
The bodies were extracted over the last week from 52 pits at a property in Salvatierra. The scene was considered dangerous enough that the army and National Guard provided security for the excavations. The area is near the border with Michoacan state and there is known to be a significant organized crime presence.
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Guanajuato has the largest number of homicides of any state in Mexico, and has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco cartel and local gangs backed by the Sinaloa cartel.
It was the largest such burial site found to date in Guanajuato, though bigger clandestine burial sites have been excavated in the past in other parts of Mexico.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday the situation in Guanajuato is “very difficult.” He said the deployment of the National Guard in the state was at least allowing authorities to reach areas that were previously inaccessible due to the sway of organized crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this article