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In Photos: The Ayotzinapa Normal School, Before and After the Disappearance of 43 Students

The lives led by Ayotzinapa teaching students changed irrevocably after 43 of their peers were "disappeared" in September. These photos documents the reality of their day-to-day since then.
Photo de Hans-Maximo Musielik

The experiences of life as a college student are as diverse as the personalities on campus.

At the all-male Raul Isidro Burgos Normal School in Ayotzinapa, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, the students lead lives that are entirely different from those of their peers elsewhere. Their day-to-day depends greatly on the volatility of the political and social reality that surrounds them.

The Missing 43: Mexico's Disappeared Students. Watch part one of the VICE News documentary here.


In August 2013, I had the opportunity to spend three days at the school. I got to know the campus and the students, saw the murals of revolutionaries and fallen guerrilla leaders, and learned about the school's history. I shared homemade mezcal with a group of normalistas, as the teaching students are known, while the graduating students prepared for a traditional, modest farewell ceremony.

Life at the Ayotzinapa school has drastically changed since September 26. That day, the mayor of the city of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, ordered a brutal attack against busloads of students form the school. Corrupt police killed six people during the operation, and forcibly disappeared 43 of them. The federal government has said that the 43 students were turned over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel and killed in a mass incineration.

The Missing 43: Mexico's Disappeared Students. Watch part two of the VICE News documentary here.

These teaching students are able young men. They are capable of making toys, maps, and educational tools for their future classrooms out of a variety of recycled objects. They are also just as capable at launching Molotov cocktails or using slingshots loaded with rocks in response to the government's failures and misdeeds against them.

This photo essay is intended to show the contrast between the lives led by the Ayotzinapa normal students prior to the horrific events that struck this school this year, and the reality they have faced since their peers were disappeared.


Ayotzinapa: A timeline of the mass disappearance that has shaken Mexico. Read more here.

All photos by Hans-Maximo Musielik

A student sits in front of a mural with the symbol for Ayotzinapa — the turtle. Students said that Ayotzinapa means "the land of turtles" in Nahuatl.

A teacher reviews the work of students. This classroom now serves as a student dormitory.

A teaching student makes miniature sandals in leather-working class.

Young normal students in their final year of study work on one of their last school projects. Due to lack of funding, Ayotzinapa normal students have learned to be very creative at constructing teaching tools out of recycled and re-used materials.

The Raul Isidro Burgos Normal School dining hall, decorated with socialist-themed murals. 

A student bathes by pouring bowls of water on himself. Because of a lack of functioning showers, many of these students bathe using the same water basin they use to wash their clothing.

I have spent the last six weeks with the students at the Ayotzinapa school, since the crimes occurred. The pain is visible, as they live through the second month without any word on the whereabouts of their friends and classmates. Their lack of faith in the government grows by the day.

'They took them alive, we want them back alive!'

The covered court where we played basketball last year now serves as a donation center to receive supplies and food for the students and search parties, and as a meeting point for family members of the 43 disappeared students. One corner of the court now functions as a mess hall, preparing and serving food to visitors, volunteers, even media.

In the center of the court sits an altar surrounded by flowers, adorned with a wood figure of Jesus on the cross.

Now, the students' classrooms are used as dorms to house the normalistas who have traveled here from other normal schools across Mexico to support the search effort, and show solidarity at the demonstrations being organized throughout the state of Guerrero, across the country, and around the world.

In the main dining room, the students hold assemblies, which always end end with them singing "Venceremos!" — Spanish for "We will overcome!"

At their demonstrations against local authorities, the students have taken to shouting, "We are the people, just like you! We are the people!"


But, the mantra they have most repeated since their peers disappeared continues to be "Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!" — meaning,"They took them alive, we want them back alive!"

A first-year normalista sleeps on the floor of his room. The other ten students who shared this room have been missing since the attack.

A young man plays the guitar under a sign that says, "Aguirre! Murderer!"

These classrooms now serve as makeshift dormitories for family members of the missing, and students from other normal schools who have come to offer their help in the search effort.

Human remains found by the group of Argentine forensics experts who were brought in to help authorities identify bodies in the mass graves in the hillsides surrounding Iguala. This jaw bone and set of lower teeth was discovered in a clandestine grave in Loma del Zapatera, near the site where the first five mass graves were discovered in Iguala on October 5.

Crates with Molotov cocktails, which are composed of rags, fuel, and Coca Cola bottles.

Normalistas and teachers from the Guerrero teacher's union march toward the municipal headquarters in Iguala. Shortly afterward, demonstrators set fire to the government building and ransacked it.

A young protester throws a fan at the offices of the municipal government in Iguala, just minutes before the building is engulfed in flames.

The office of Mayor Jose Luis Abarca after normal students and teachers entered it.

An Iguala resident sits in the middle of the street watching the municipal headquarters burn. Demonstrators and other masked individuals later looted the building after protesters left it in ruin.

Residents took advantage of the chaos and looted shops and offices in the Tamarindos mall. By then the normalistas had returned to Ayotzinapa.

Children look on as demonstrators march from Tixtla to Chilpancingo.

Governor Angel Aguirre resigns as social and political pressure increased over the disappearance of the 43 normal school students.

Normal school students and teachers union members take over the Palo Blanco toll booth in central Guerrero. This activity occurs several times a week.

A teacher from the Guerrero teachers union points a slingshot at police who have installed themselves at Casa Guerrero, the governor's residence, during a demonstration on October 4.

Teachers ram a vehicle into the gates of Casa Guerrero, then set it on fire. The graffiti reads "We don't accept [interim governor] Ortega," and, "Bring them back alive."

Two suspected government intelligence agents are detained by teachers and turned over to authorities in Chilpancingo.

A mural made by Ayotzinapa students since the Iguala attacks. This wall was painted for Day of the Dead in the nearby town of Tixtla.

Students from the Ayotzinapa school burn vehicles used to transport commercial goods in front of government offices in Chilpancingo. 

Normal school students place a state patrol vehicle on the front steps of the Chilpancingo government palace. Minutes later, the demonstrators set fire to the building.

Cars burn in the parking lot of the government offices in Chilpancingo.

Students from the Ayotzinapa normal school carry the Mexican flag toward the Acapulco International Airport, where they shut down all outbound flight activity and seized the airport for several hours.

A peaceful protest is held in Tixtla, demanding the return of the 43 missing students.

A man in Chilpancingo reads new graffiti left by unionized teachers in the main square. Over the following days graffiti spreads across towns throughout the state, criticizing the governor and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and demanding the students are safely returned.

Students take a break during the roadblock along the Autopista Del Sol in Guerrero.

A protester strikes a police officer's shields with a stick, during an encounter with state police, shortly after demonstrators set fire to the offices of the country's ruling party in Chilpancingo.

Armed members of a community police force stand guard at the Ayotzinapa normal school gate. The citizen police have offered their protection since the September 26 attacks. 

Community police in Guerrero march through the streets of Tixtla during a demonstration, demanding the liberation of one of their community leaders, Comandante Gonzalez, who was arrested a year ago. The Ayotzinapa normalistas marched alongside them in solidarity.

The Guerrero congressional chamber burns after it is attacked by teachers from the Guerrero teacher's union. 

Family members of one of the missing normalistas, Cristian Alfonso Rodriguez, light candles at an altar they set for their son. 

Officials say the 43 students missing in Mexico were incinerated. Read more here.