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Witness: 21 gang members killed by Mexican Army after they had surrendered

Photograph of 15-year-old Erika Gomez Gonzalez on an altar in her honor in her mother's home in Arcelia, Mexico.

Photograph of 15-year-old Erika Gomez Gonzalez on an altar in her honor in her mother's home in Arcelia, Mexico.  (ap)

A woman says she saw Mexican soldiers shoot and kill her 15-year-old daughter after a confrontation with a suspected drug gang even though the teenager was lying wounded on the ground. Twenty others also were shot and killed in rural southern Mexico after they surrendered and were disarmed, the mother told The Associated Press.

The Mexican government has maintained that all died during a fierce shootout when soldiers were fired on in the early morning of June 30. That version came into question because government troops suffered only one wounded, and physical evidence at the scene pointed toward more selective killings.

The witness said the army fired first at the armed group holed up at the warehouse. She said one gunman died in the initial shootout, and another gang member and her daughter were wounded. The rest of the gunmen surrendered on the promise they would not be hurt, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

After the gang surrendered, the girl, Erika Gomez Gonzalez, lay face down in the ground, a bullet wound in her leg. Soldiers rolled her over while she was still alive and shot her more than half a dozen times in the chest, her mother said. Another suspected gang member was injured in the initial attack.

"A soldier stood the kid up and killed him," said the witness, who said she had gone to the warehouse the night before to try to retrieve her daughter from the gang she had apparently joined.

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The soldiers interrogated the rest of the gang members in front of the warehouse, and then took them inside one-by-one, she said. From where she stood just outside the warehouse and in army custody, she heard gunshots and moans of the dying.

Several days after the killings, AP reporters visited and took pictures of the warehouse and found little evidence of sustained fighting. There were few stray bullet marks and no shell casings. At least five spots along the warehouse's inside walls showed the same pattern: One or two closely placed bullet pocks, surrounded by a mass of spattered blood, giving the appearance that some of those killed had been standing against the wall and shot at about chest level.

After the AP report, the state of Mexico prosecutors' office released a statement saying there was "no evidence at all of possible executions." The office said it found ballistic evidence of "crossfire with a proportionate interchange of gunshots."

The state government refused to release autopsy reports the AP requested under Mexico's freedom of information law, declaring them state secrets to be guarded for nine years.

Interviewed separately, relatives of three other gang members who were killed and a doctor who saw Erika's body said the wounds were consistent with the mother's account of how they were killed — with an incapacitating wound and a burst of gunshots to the chest. 

The death certificate for Erika, seen by reporters, confirmed that she died on June 30 outside the town of San Pedro Limon, where the killings occurred, and gave bullet wounds as the cause of death. There are no details in the certificate on ballistics or the type of weapon used. 

The gravestones of two other of those killed, Marcos Salgado Burgos, 20, and his brother, Juan Jose Salgado Burgos, 18, also record their death on June 30.

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