The remains of at least 242 people have been discovered in mass graves in southeast Mexico, with the majority of the victims believed to be in their teens and early 20s.
Mexican authorities said on Friday that they had found the bodies in a total of 124 hidden graves over a six-month period in the country’s eastern state of Veracruz.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the graves contained “a lot of young women’s clothes, credentials, shoes and garments that look like they belong to inner-city kids.”
Other reports said many of the exhumed bodies had been found conjoined and headless, adding that most of the victims were students from high schools and universities between the ages of 14 and 25.
A military source in Veracruz, which is one of the most violent states in Mexico, noted that the victims “probably were buried by criminals in league with the local authorities.”
The coastal state is notorious for extremely high level of crime, triggered by drug trafficking, government corruption and organized crime, with some 720 people gone missing since 2010. Kidnapping, extortion and forced disappearances have been rampant in the state over the past few years.
Veracruz is also the scene of a deadly turf struggle between two violent drug cartels, namely the Zetas and the Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
Both gangs seek to monopolize drug trafficking routes to the United States, and often kidnap and extort locals as well as immigrants from Central America. Both criminal groups have buried their victims for years in clandestine graves, which have proliferated recently.
Since December 2006, when the Mexican government launched a militarized effort against drug trafficking, a surge in violence has claimed the lives of more than 166,000 people, with more than 27,000 reported disappearances, according to official figures.
In one of the most high-profile cases, 43 Mexican students disappeared on September 26, 2014, after they participated in a protest in the southwestern city of Iguala, in Guerrero State.
Some two and a half years into their disappearance, their parents continue a desperate search to find out the fate of their children.