Skulls Found in Mexican Mass Grave Are Reminders of Cartel Violence

Officials in Mexico have uncovered a mass grave containing at least 168 human skulls. Authorities discovered the grave with the aid of drones after receiving a tip from a witness, according to Veracruz Attorney General Jorge Winckler. The hidden burial ground, located in the state of Veracruz, is believed to be connected to drug cartel and government violence in the area.

The investigation unearthed more than 30 separate graves in the same area, containing over 200 pieces of clothing and more than 100 IDs. Experts believe these deaths can be tied to the administration of former mayor Javier Duarte, who is currently incarcerated and awaiting trial on corruption charges. Winckler claims that “government officials collaborated with drug gangs to illegally arrest people of a rival group, torture them and then killed them and disappeared the bodies,” and suspects that mass graves like this one will continue to be discovered.

This is not the first mass burial in Veracruz to make headlines. In 2017, authorities discovered a grave containing more than 250 human skulls, which they are still working to identify. “The state has become a cemetery, that’s the terrible and sad reality,” said Winckler, noting that mass graves have been found in more than half of Veracruz’s 212 municipalities. Across Mexico, an estimated 40,000 people are missing, many of whom are assumed to have been killed and hidden in similar graves.

Preliminary findings indicate the bodies at the Veracruz gravesite were buried at least two years ago. Because many of the remains are now degraded, DNA matching is the only means by which investigators can positively identify the victims and give closure to the affected families. For this task, authorities are turning to forensic anthropologists. DNA samples taken from clothing and other items are being sent for analysis to determine if a positive identification can be made. Once the DNA is obtained, it will be compared against a national database of missing people in the hopes of finding a match.