A team of independent Argentine forensics investigators cast doubt Sunday on the government's claim that one of the missing Mexican students' remains was found amid debris recovered from a river near a dump where the 43 were allegedly incinerated.
The Argentine group did confirm that a bone fragment recovered from the San Juan river near Cocula, Guerrero, where the executions reportedly took place, belongs to Ayotzinapa Normal School student Alexander Mora, 19. They are still examining 16 more human remains or bone fragments recovered from the river and the dump.
The confirmation makes Mora the first fatality in the missing students case apart from the three students and three bystanders killed on the night of September 26 in the city of Iguala.
But in its statement, the Argentine Forensics Anthropology Team, or EAAF, said it could not verify the government's claim that the bone fragment was recovered from a plastic bag thrown into the river, as Mexican attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam said Sunday.
"The EAAF was not present at the moment the divers and the [attorney general's investigators] recovered the bag and did not participate in the finding of this fragment," the statement said.
The Argentine team also said that, although ashes and remains were recovered from both the Cocula dump and from the San Juan river, the evidence that "unites the two sites, for now, is essentially testimonial," referring to the three taped confessions of suspects who said they participated in the mass execution.
The doubt expressed by the EAAF suggests the group is not certain that government officials are not fabricating or manipulating evidence related to the Ayotzinapa missing students case. "The opinion of the EAAF is that more physical evidence is needed to unite the two sites," the team concluded.
Those doubts echoed earlier statements by representatives of Human Rights Watch, who visited Mexico in November and heavily criticized the government's investigation into the Ayotzinapa case and another suspected mass extrajudicial killing that took place in June in the neighboring State of Mexico.
In both cases, Human Rights Watch said, Mexican federal authorities delayed the start of their investigations, and in the Tlatlaya case, authorities relied on forced witness testimonies to bolster claims that turned out to be false.
"The poor capacity [to carry out] investigations is truly surprising for a state the magnitude of Mexico," Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW Americas director, said in a press conference in Mexico City on November 6.
Murillo Karam said forensics experts at the University of Innsbruck in Austria had positively identified Mora's remains through DNA evidence. The development seemed to confirm Murillo Karam's earlier claim that the students were turned over by Iguala police to executioners with the Guerreros Unidos cartel and incinerated in a blaze that lasted at least 12 hours, as the detained suspects told officials.
Since Saturday, when Mora's identification was first reported, Ayotzinapa students and parents told VICE News they would not let up in their demands to see the remaining 42 normalistas returned to them alive, setting up a scenario of more street demonstrations and mobilizations in the coming weeks.
"Finding one is not evidence of the death of the rest," parent spokesman Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval told VICE News, after a Saturday night rally for the missing students at Mexico City's Monument to the Revolution.
The Ayotzinapa survivors remained firm in their position in a press conference back at their campus on Sunday. They again cast doubt on the government's account that the students were all dead.
In El Pericón, a tiny community in Tecoanapa, southern Guerrero, Mora's father Ezequiel Mora said on Sunday he was "enraged" at the news. He stood before an altar dedicated to his son, an altar with no remains to mourn.
"I can't take this any longer, my son hurts," Mora told El Universal. "I cry when I see his face on the streets, on the signs. […] The whole country is hurting because of this."
Murillo Karam reaffirmed an earlier position made by President Enrique Peña Nieto, that justice will be served in the case of the missing Ayotzinapa students, "wherever that may lead us."
Mora, a widower and now a grieving father, said he'd like to ask Murillo Karam, "from his heart," to present him with the former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and cohorts who are accused of ordering and carrying out the students' disappearances.
"I want to see them," Mora said.
Photo above: Ezequiel Mora, father of Alexander Mora, stands next to an altar in his son's memory, at their home in the town of El Pericón, Guerrero, on Sunday, Dec. 7.
Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter @longdrivesouth.