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Mexico’s Military Says One of the Missing 43 Students Was an Active Soldier

Almost nine months since the Ayotzinapa disappearances, parents said Thursday they knew of no missing young man who was a soldier. They called the army's statements a strategy at dividing them.

by Melissa del Pozo
Jun 19 2015, 6:40pm

Photo via VICE News

Mexico's military has acknowledged that one of the 43 young men who were kidnapped and allegedly killed by a drug gang in the state of Guerrero last year was a Mexican soldier.

The revelation made by the newsmagazine Proceso on Wednesday highlighted the persistent confusion and doubts still surrounding the case of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, who were disappeared after coming under police and gang fire on September 26, 2014.

A Proceso reporter filed a public-information request with Mexico's Secretariat of Defense — or Sedena, as the Mexican army is known — asking if any of the missing students were members of the military.

In response, Sedena said that one of the 42 students who officially remain missing "corresponds" to the name of an active-duty soldier.

The wording opened the possibility of a repeating name belonging to two separate people, but Sedena's statements also made reference to a "disappeared soldier," confirming its version of the claim. Military officials did not release the man's identity.

"The name is classified as confidential," read Sedena's answer. "Releasing that information represents a real threat to the security of the family of the disappeared soldier."

Related: At Least 13 Missing As Another Mass Disappearance Develops in Guerrero

Parents of the missing students have maintained their movement for almost nine months. (Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News file)

But parents of the missing students said they knew of no Ayotzinapa victim who belonged to the military.

In interviews with VICE News, the parents blasted Sedena's statements, calling them a strategic act meant to disrupt their ongoing movement and to create division among the mourning relatives in Guerrero.

Previously, parents have attempted to storm the army battalion base in Iguala, claiming that soldiers were also responsible for the Ayotzinapa disappearances.

"We don't accept what Sedena said, and we did not know there could have been a soldier among the disappeared students," said Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the parents.

Speaking to VICE News in phone interview from the Ayotzinapa Normal School campus on Thursday evening, de la Cruz said the revelation was merely "another way to try to split the movement and separate the parents."

'If they knew about it, why wait until now to make it public?'

Unverified rumors and claims have dogged the memory of the missing students almost since the moment the tragedy became known to the wider public. In accounts published by VICE News, suspects held for attacking the students said they believed members of a rival drug gang were aboard the buses that were ambushed.

"We would be the first ones to know, had our sons been involved in bad practices, don't you think?" said Meliton Ortega, father of missing 19-year-old Mauricio Ortega. "It's a strategy and we won't allow it."

Survivors of the attacks on the Ayotzinapa buses have also admitted to VICE News that members of latent guerrilla organizations in Guerrero state have been present at the campus, "advising" the students' activities.

Related: Parents of Mexico's Missing 43 Students are Asking a Local Drug Lord for Help Finding Their Sons

Protesters attempt to enter the compound of the Guerrero state capital building in Chilpancingo, Oct. 13, 2014. (Photo by Felix Marquez/AP)

The military's response also served as a reminder that only one of the students allegedly killed in September has been positively identified by authorities, nearly nine months since the disappearances.

A bone fragment belonging to 19-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio is so far the only piece of physical evidence that authorities say directly links the disappearances to confessions made by dozens of suspects detained in relation to the case.

His father, Ezequiel Mora, told VICE News this week he still doesn't believe his son is dead. "I will continue searching for my son, and since the [attorney general's office] has not handed me his body, I can't trust them," Mora said.

De la Cruz said parents are currently waiting for the results of an independent investigation being conducted by a special commission, which was sent to Mexico by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The last time the parents met with federal authorities was May 9, and since then, he said public officials "have shown no interest in following the case, or at least sitting with us."

In that last encounter, they met with officials from the attorney general's office to discuss the testimony of Francisco Salgado Valladares, former police chief of Iguala, who had been captured two days before.

De la Cruz questioned the timing of the latest twist in the case of the missing 43.

"If they knew about it, why wait until now to make it public? Supposedly they have to keep a record of their employees. For us, this is just another onslaught from the Mexican government," he said.

Parents said they will travel once more to Mexico City on June 26, to mark nine months since the disappearances with a 43-hour vigil for the young men.

Related: Watch 'The Missing 43: Mexico's Disappeared Students'

Follow Melissa del Pozo on Twitter @melissadps.