In the latest attack in Mexico on Catholic faithful, four young men who disappeared over the weekend and whose bodies were found dumped on the side of the road, have been identified as members of a Catholic evangelist group named Arco Iris (Rainbow).
Their bodies were found Tuesday in San Juan de los Platanos, about 10 miles west of Apatzingán in the state of Michoacán. Their murder follows hard on the heels of three priests who were kidnapped, killed and had their dead bodies dumped on roadsides – one in Michoacán, two in Veracruz – in the span of one week.
The Michoacán state prosecutor's office said in a statement that family members identified the four men and said they were last seen Saturday, but had not been reported missing. It said one was wearing a tactical vest.
One of the men was a local papaya farmer, another raised pigs, the third belonged to a vigilante “auto-defense” unit that in years past clashed frequently with cartel sicarios in the region. The fourth man was visiting from the United States, according to the local La Voz news site. He had scheduled to return to the U.S. on Sunday.
The disappearance of the men was first noted on Facebook by José Luis Segura Barragán, on Sunday. Segarra, a former parish priest according to the Associated Press, wrote that they belonged to the Catholic youth group Arco Iris, which proselytizes in rural communities. They were all in their 20s.
The men were last seen outside the church Saturday around 10:30 p.m.
Segura did not immediately respond to messages from the AP, but the Apatzingán Diocese confirmed that the Facebook page belonged to Segura.
In a post Tuesday, Segura blamed organized crime for the murders.
"This tragedy touches my heart deeply, because I spent time with them for three years, and I accompanied them in their evangelism retreats and their missions to small hamlets," Segura wrote.
In a subsequent post, Segura called on society to stand up against the violence.
"I believe that it's time that we take seriously organized crime and the government, useless or complicit," Segura wrote. "We cannot put up with any more murders, executions, abductions, kidnappings, extortions and the other cruel and destructive actions that the criminals commit against society and the Catholic Church."
Michoacán has suffered for years under competing drug cartels. So-called self-defense forces rose up to confront them in the absence of governmental control, though some of those same groups were infiltrated by the cartels.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.