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We begin this morning with what a human rights group calls a crisis in Mexico. For years, we've been hearing about the dead in Mexico's six-year-long drug war - 60,000 so far. But that grisly statistic tells only part of the story. Thousands of people have disappeared during this period. A leaked government document puts the number as high as 25,000.
NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Monterrey, Mexico.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Maximina Hernandez says she begged her 23-year old son, Dionicio, to give up his job as a police officer in a suburb of Monterrey. Rival drug cartels have been battling in the northern Mexican city for years.
MAXIMINA HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: But he told her being a police officer was in his blood, a family tradition. He was detailed to guard the town's mayor. But in May of 2007, on his way to work, two men wearing police uniforms stopped him on a busy street, pulled him from his car, and drove him away. That same day, the mayor's other two bodyguards were also abducted. Witnesses say the kidnappers wore uniforms of an elite anti-drug police unit. None of the three men have been seen since.
SISTER CONSUELO MORALES ELIZONDO: (Spanish spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Spanish spoken)
ELIZONDO: (Spanish spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Relatives of those disappeared hold hands and pray at this weekly meeting at a downtown Monterrey Human Rights center. There's no shortage of heartbreaking stories here, says Sister Consuelo Morales Elizondo. Morales is a petite woman. A large cross hangs from her neck. She's been a thorn in the side of authorities in Monterrey, pushing officials to do more to aid relatives of the disappeared.
ELIZONDO: (Through translator) What is happening to us here in Mexico these past years, the thousands of disappeared, it is so painful. It is so bleak. We have to stick together for the family members that are left behind. They're the ones who suffer the most.
KAHN: Family members are left with many questions - not only who took their loved ones, but why. The motives for disappearances are murky, sometimes involving drug traffickers, sometimes state security forces, sometimes both.
Maximina Hernandez says she was so frustrated with a local investigator one day, she told him to get out of his chair and get to work.
HERNANDEZ: (Through translator) I told him: You never leave the office. I always see you here, drinking your soda, with your feet up, eating your chicken. No one is looking for my son.
KAHN: She says that's when the investigator threatened her.
HERNANDEZ: (Through translator) He said I better shut my trap, or they would shut it for me. I told him if he wasn't going to do his job, then get out of the way and let someone else do it.
KAHN: Many families also complain that authorities require relatives to do the bulk of the investigating.
JAVIER ENRIQUE FLORES SALDIVA: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: That's not true, says Javier Enrique Flores Saldiva, the assistant attorney general for the state of Nuevo Leon. Monterrey is the state's capital.
SALDIVA: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Flores says he can't comment on specific cases, but he says his investigators have gotten results and are setting an example for the rest of the country on how to work with victim's groups.
Nuevo Leon has done more than other states when it comes to solving cases of disappeared, says Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch. But he adds that is not much of a compliment, given that the vast majority of cases in the state remain unsolved.
Yesterday, the New York-based group released a report documenting hundreds of disappeared cases throughout Mexico. Steinberg says the numbers are staggering, in the tens of thousands.
NIK STEINBERG: With a number that high, we're dealing with a crisis of disappearance in Mexico that's unlike anything we've seen in Latin America in decades.
KAHN: According to Human Rights Watch, many disappearances occur at the hands of security forces. That's exactly what happened in the case of Jehu Sepulveda Garza.
ELBA GARZA: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: At his family's modest home in a Monterrey suburb, Jehu's mother, Elba Garza, breaks down at the dinning room table. She says her son was a good man. It's just not fair.
His wife, Janet Olazaran Banderas, says two years ago, her husband was picked up by local transit cops for parking on the wrong side of the street. He was taken to the local station, where she was able to reach him on his cell. They'd only been married six months. He told her not to worry.
JANET OLAZARAN BANDERAS: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: When she called back 15 minutes later, he didn't answer. A videotape at the station shows her husband being handed over to state police. From there, they believe he was transferred to the Navy. None of the police forces will say what happened next, and like thousands, his case remains open and unsolved.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Monterrey.
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