CARACAS, Venezuela – The number of bodies recovered from a mass grave in southeastern Venezuela near where a group of miners went missing has risen to 17.
Police investigating the massacre made the grisly discovery near a wildcat gold claim where the miners disappeared a week ago,
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said late Monday on Twitter that investigators concluded their work in the jungle where the bodies were found wrapped in black plastic bags and dumped in a 5-meter deep hole in the ground.
The circumstances behind the massacre remain unclear. Ortega said she believes 21 people were killed by a criminal gang led by an Ecuadorean. But opposition lawmakers investigating the massacre and relatives who have said they witnessed the attack put the number higher and contend local officials were involved, a claim the government denies.
The crime last week shocked Venezuelans accustomed to morbid tales of violence in a country with one of the world's highest homicide rates. Fearing unrest after the state's governor denied the killings took place and outraged relatives blocked a highway to Brazil in protest, President Nicolas Maduro's government dispatched hundreds of soldiers and Cabinet officials to search for the missing miners.
One person linked to the gang's ringleader has already been taken into custody and several more arrests are expected soon, Ortega said.
Venezuelan Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who is in Bolivar accompanying loved ones of the victims, said its possible more bodies will be recovered in the coming days. The remains had not yet been identified, he said.
Family members greeted the news with resignation mixed with anguish.
"This is very painful news for us after 12 days of suffering," Yosleida Montilla, the mother of three of the disappeared miners, told The Associated Press.