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Full of distrust, parents of 43 missing students comb Mexican state searching for their kids

The revelation that the DNA of Alexander Mora, one of the 43 Mexican students missing for almost three months now, was among the charred remains found in a public dump last week, failed to bring the cool-off effect government officials hoped for.

But the crushed family members of the young men last seen on Sept. 26 are not giving up.

They said they are determined to keep combing the state of Guerrero, where the students were allegedly abducted by local police forces during a street protest. Considering that Guerrero, the second poorest state in Mexico, is about the size of the state of West Virginia, the search team has decided to split up into smaller groups to cover the area.

“We will keep looking for our sons,” Felipe de la Cruz, father of one of the missing students, told Fox News Latino. De la Cruz and the other family members say they never truly believed the official version put out by Mexico’s head prosecutor, Jesús Murillo Karam, on Nov. 7.

Corrupt municipal police officers, he said, arrested the 43 trainee teachers and delivered them to local cartel members of the “Guerreros Unidos.” Murillo went on to say that, once in the hands of the organized crime group, the students were brought to a public dump in Colcula, where they were executed and burnt.

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According to the investigation, the authors of the crime had confessed to burning the bodies using a mix of diesel, tires, firewood and plastic found nearby in the rubbish dump, which had required some 14 hours. The remains were then shoveled into plastic bags and dumped in a nearby river, Murillo said.

“How can they have killed and burnt so many people in so little time?” De la Cruz wondered out loud, challenging the timeline presented by the prosecutor’s office. “We, parents, think it’s impossible and believe our kids are still alive. And we will keep looking for them.”

A study published recently by Mexican experts from two prestigious universities concurs with the parents’ suspicions. “If the bodies had been burnt with pure firewood, it would have required approximately 33 tons of tree logs (with an average 4-inch diameter each) to burn 43 corpses,” argue Pablo Ugalde Vélez and Jorge Antonio Montemayor Aldrete, authors of the study and professors in the physics departments at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UAM) and Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM).

Experts in the U.S. consulted by Fox News Latino also expressed some reservations.

“In a crematorium, it usually takes between 1.5 and 4 hours to burn one body, depending on height and weight. “So 43 bodies … that’s a lot of bodies to do in one shot,” said Santos Rivera, who works at Green-Wood cemetery in the state of New York. “I don’t even know if we would be able to handle that kind of capacity.”

The executive director of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), Barbara Kemmis, said she harbored strong doubts as to whether so many bodies could be burnt “to bone fragments and nothing else” in the time period provided in the prosecutor’s investigation.

“Modern cremation takes place in a fully enclosed machine, with two chambers,” she explained, adding that this enables to keep the heat constant throughout the procedure. She said chambers are heated up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows the DNA to dry out and disappear from any bone fragments – something Mexican officials said happened to most of the fragments found in the dump.

“That’s [the process] when cremation is done properly,” she said. “In an open pit, not knowing air temperature, using plastic, tires, and whatever was lying there, it would have required a tremendous amount of fuel to get to that point,” Kemmis said, before concluding: “It would be virtually impossible to maintain the heat for the length of time necessary.”

Meanwhile, De la Cruz and the rest of the parents continue to ask the authorities that they explore and open other leads. "There are other lines of investigation which could lead to different inquests, but the priority right now remains solely on the current investigation," De la Cruz said.

Diane Jeantet is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.

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