COCULA, Mexico (AP) — On the morning of her high school graduation, Berenice Navarijo Segura was delayed for a hair and makeup appointment by an explosion of gunfire in the center of town. Her mother was up before dawn preparing stewed goat and beans for the celebration, and didn’t want her to risk going out. Her sister, who had made enough salsa for 60 guests, tried to hold back the spirited 19-year-old with questions: “Do you have your wallet? What about your phone?”
But there was a reason the family called Berenice “Princess.” She’d already paid the salon and was determined to look her best for the big day. Accustomed to dodging gun battles in a region overrun by drug cartels, she waited for only 20 minutes after the shooting subsided before rushing out the door with a promise to be quick.
She hopped onto the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle and vanished into the ranks of Mexico’s missing.
Sixteen other people, including Berenice’s boyfriend, disappeared from Cocula on that day, July 1, 2013 — more than a year before 43 students from a teachers college were detained by police in nearby Iguala and never seen again. For all those months, most of the Cocula families kept quiet, hoping their silence might bring children and spouses home alive, fearing that a complaint might condemn them to death.
“What if I report it and my daughter is nearby and they know I reported it, they hurt her or something?” reasoned Berenice’s mother, Rosa Segura Giral.
Then the disappearance of the students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa became an international outrage. The government rushed to investigate the crime and announced with great fanfare its official conclusion that the youths had been killed and the ashes of their incinerated bodies dumped in Cocula.
Emboldened by the sudden attention to abductions, the families of Cocula began coming forward, and hundreds of other families from the state of Guerrero emerged from silent anguish. They spoke of their misfortune to each other, often for the first time, and signed lists, adding the names of their loved ones to the government’s growing registry of 25,000 people reported missing nationwide since 2007. They swabbed the inside of their cheeks for DNA samples. And they grabbed metal rods to poke in the craggy countryside for traces of the family members whom they started calling “the other disappeared.”
Sometimes they found evidence of bodies, and sometimes the authorities dug up graves from anonymous fields. More than 100 bodies have been pulled from the soil. But like the students of Ayotzinapa, all but one of whom are unaccounted for, so far the remains of only six of the other disappeared from around Iguala have been identified and given back to their families.
The others are still missing. And their families are the other victims.