Mexican officials again criticize volunteer searcher after she finds more bodies

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican volunteer searcher criticized in the past by the government has found more human remains in Mexico City and officials have attacked her for it — again.

The existence of clandestine body dumping grounds is sensitive for Mexico’s ruling Morena party. Morena, which is running the former Mexico City mayor for president in Sunday's elections, claims the kind of violence that plagues other parts of the country has been successfully combatted in the capital.

But volunteer searcher Ceci Flores, who has spent years searching for her two missing sons, says that’s because officials haven’t bothered to look for bodies. It's a common complaint by relatives of missing people in many parts of Mexico, where drug cartels and kidnap gangs use shallow pits to dispose of the bodies of their victims.

On Thursday, Flores posted a video showing what appeared to be human femurs and craniums in the tall dry grass of a hillside on the city's east side. She suggested there were at least three bodies, and noted there could be more on the hillside.

“We don't want to disturb them," Flores said in the video, pointing to a pile of bones with her shovel from a distance of several feet. “We don't want to go in and disturb them.”

Flores has sparred with the government before, accusing officials of ignoring the plight of Mexico's more than 100,000 missing people.

In late April, Flores drew the ire of city prosecutors when she claimed she had found charred bones and at least two people's identification cards in another semi-rural area on the city's east side. Prosecutors quickly concluded the bones were from dogs, and that the ID cards had been discarded or stolen and their owners were alive.

Soon after, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador played a government-produced video at his daily press briefing, accusing searchers like Flores of morbidity and claimed they were suffering from “a delirium of necrophilia.”

But by Friday, acting Mexico City prosecutor Ulises Lara was forced to acknowledge that Flores had indeed found bones, and that they were apparently human. Lara said police, forensic experts, National Guard officers and soldiers were dispatched to the scene.

That raised the obvious question of why the vast team of official manpower had never been able to find the bodies, while a lone searching mother armed with only a shovel did.

Lara lashed out at Flores without mentioning her by name, claiming “the chain of custody” of the evidence had been broken and the bones had been “handled.”

“This violated the dignity and respect that people searching for the relatives deserve, and some of them have expressed their discontent with this situation,” Lara said, implying it would have been better not to have found them.

In a video posted on social media Saturday, Flores reacted with disbelief.

“Seriously? These remains were unknown. We did the work they are supposed to do,” Flores said. “You (Lara) didn't even know about them, weren't aware of them, had not located them.”

Regarding the accusation that other searching relatives were angered by her actions — mass searches of the kind Flores carries out in her native Sonora are not common in Mexico City — Flores shot back, “they should be angry at you for not doing your job.”

López Obrador's administration has spent far more time and resources looking for people falsely listed as missing — people who may have returned home without advising authorities — than in searching for grave sites that relatives say they desperately need for closure.

Flores is a very accomplished searcher, and like many mothers of disappeared people, she has a deep sense of mission. One of her sons, Alejandro Guadalupe, disappeared in 2015. Her second son, Marco Antonio, was abducted in 2019. Authorities have told her nothing about the fate of either of them.

In her home state of Sonora, authorities confirmed in April they had identified 45 missing people from among 57 sets of remains at a body dumping ground known as “El Choyudo” that was originally discovered by Flores’ group, The Searching Mothers of Sonora.

The “madres buscadoras” (searching mothers) usually aren’t trying to convict anyone of their relatives’ disappearances. They say they just want to find their remains. Many families say not having definite knowledge of a relative’s fate is worse than it would be to know a loved one was dead.

At least seven volunteer searchers have been killed in Mexico since 2021.