MEXICO CITY ( Associated Press) – The haunting story of a young woman abandoned on the side of a highway late at night in northern Mexico ended in tragedy, with her rotting body found in an underground water tank at a motel.
Assistant Public Security Secretary Ricardo Mejia said on Friday that the woman’s body – clearly unrecognizable after being in the water for nearly two weeks – was a crucifix necklace and robes worn by Debanhi Escobar the night he had disappeared.
Despite what officials in the border state of Nuevo León described as a massive search for her, the story ended as it often does in Mexico: when her body was found by locals.
“The alert was issued by hotel staff because of the smell emanating from the area,” Mejia said.
The story of Debanhi Escobar came into limelight because of a haunting picture taken by a driver who was about to take her home that night. It was not clear why she got out of the car, but her father, Mario Escobar, said prosecutors told her surveillance camera footage showed the driver had touched his daughter inappropriately.
“I think my daughter did not tolerate the harassment,” said the father. The driver has been taken into custody, although his full name has not been released. Escobar said that even though the driver may not have killed him, he was responsible for his daughter’s death.
A driver working for a taxi app took a photo to show a young woman who came alive from her car on the outskirts of downtown Monterey on April 8. There she was, a young woman standing alone at night wearing a skirt and high-top sneakers on the side of the highway.
The image spoke of the young woman’s tremendous vulnerability, and self-assurance – or desperation.
No one saw him until late Thursday, when investigators managed to pull his body from a 12-foot (4 m) deep water tank near a pool at a roadside motel.
Mario Escobar said he was sure 18-year-old Debanhi was dead.
“My daughter is dead. I don’t know what to do,” said Escobar. “Prosecutors didn’t do their job properly.”
Nuevo León Governor Samuel García said that “everything indicates that it is him.”
President Andres Manuel López Obrador said on Friday that the case has caused “logically, much concern, great concern” among Mexicans.
Critics are upset by the fact that even when officials are prompted to act out of public outcry, investigations are rarely very timely or efficient.
During the week when investigators said 200 personnel used drones, sniffer dogs and a review of security camera footage to search for Debanhi, her body was actually not far from where she was last seen.
The killings of women in Mexico have increased in recent years, rising from 977 cases in 2020 to 1,015 in 2021. And those cases were classified as “feminicide,” a legal term used in Mexico to kill women because of their gender. Overall, the murders of women are much higher.
The number of women missing is also high, with around 1,600 missing so far this year. Officials say 829 of them are still listed as missing, and 16 were found dead.
Just before Debanhi Escobar disappeared, another woman was murdered in Monterrey, 27-year-old María Fernanda Contreras. A suspect – apparently, a friend or acquaintance of the woman – has been arrested.
During the week officials were searching for Escobar, local media reported that the bodies of five other women and girls had been found in the state. All the victims were reported missing around the same time as Debanhi was. Four were 16 or younger.
Later, Marie Balderas, the head of the State Search Commission, said the report was incorrect. He said all the five girls were found alive.
Angelica Orozco, who leads the relatives group United Forces for Our Disappeared in Nuevo León state, said the problem is not only that the authorities are slow to investigate and do it badly, but that they also blame the victims. give.
“The first is that they do not conduct diligent investigations or searches, and secondly are the statements issued by the authorities, in some cases linking them to illegal activities,” Orozco said.
She was particularly upset when the Nuevo León state prosecutor, Gustavo Guerrero, said Thursday that most women disappear voluntarily, or as an act of “rebellion.”
“The main reason women disappear is because of lack of communication with their families, disputes with them, the rebellion of young people,” Guerrero said. “The age limit for most of the women who go missing is 14 to 25 years, but this is not due to crime, but a voluntary condition.”
That idea was disputed by María de la Luz Estrada of the activist group National Feminicide Observatory, who said it has become a depressing pattern that when women disappear, they end up dead.
Of Escobar’s case, Estrada said, “It’s very serious and regrettable,” but that has been the pattern in recent years, with disappearances becoming crimes like homicide.
Nor is the problem limited to the Nuevo Leon. Authorities in another border state, Sonora, have found so many missing women and men — that state prosecutors announced they are using mobile labs in three cities to “collect DNA samples on a large scale” from relatives of the missing. To help identify the dead bodies found there.