ACAPULCO, Mexico – Mexican police found three dismembered bodies wrapped in blankets near a southern city where at least 16 people disappeared during a vigilante takeover earlier this month.
The bodies of the three middle-age men were found Thursday in a cemetery near Chilapa, a city in Guerrero state.
Vigilantes, who some Chilapa residents claim are linked to a local drug gang, took over the city from May 9 to 14. Families later reported 16 people disappeared or taken away by armed men during that time, authorities have said.
Federal investigators have been sent in to search for the missing residents.
Police found the three bodies Thursday after receiving an anonymous tip, but the bodies had not been identified. The three men were apparently killed about five days ago, said a Guerrero state official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name.
Claiming to be "community police" from surrounding towns, more than 200 vigilantes took over Chilapa on May 9 purportedly to end widespread violence in the city that has resulted from a turf war between the rival Rojos and Ardillos drug gangs. The vigilantes disarmed local police and forced the police chief out, saying they suspected some officers of working for Los Rojos. The vigilantes later returned the police weapons, a new chief was named and state and federal police were sent in to take charge of security.
After the vigilantes left, some residents came forward to accuse them of kidnapping residents and said they appeared to be working for Los Ardillos.
The confusion continued Thursday when the state prosecutor told local media that 15 people from Chilapa were apparently being held by the vigilantes and that authorities were urging them to release or account for the people.
The Guerrero state government said Wednesday that it continued to negotiate with the leaders of the community police forces. It identified the head of the vigilantes as Jose Apolonio Villanueva, a communal farm leader. It said he was fed up with crime in the area and demanded that marines be sent in.
Community police forces exist in some Guerrero towns, but they are designated by community assemblies. They are limited by law to policing their own towns, usually with low-caliber, single-shot rifles or shotguns.