On the eve of her murder, María del Rosario Zavala Aguilar was very optimistic.
That night he called Joanna, the eldest of his six children, and told her that he was very close to finding his brother. It was the last time they spoke.
Yatziri Misael Cardona Aguilar was 16 when a group of armed men kidnapped him from his home in León, Guanajuato, on Christmas Eve 2019. Since then, his mother has been looking for him: she printed posters, lobbied the prosecution, joined a search collective and scoured the entire state asking to see if anyone had seen this young man with a skinhead and defiant eyes.
After an intense afternoon of tracking, Rosario believed she was closer to her target. He had been touring the Coecillo colony for several hours when a young man told him he knew where Yatziri was. The boy said he had seen him at a drug point of sale but offered no further details because he feared reprisals. Although the explanations were scarce, expectations multiplied. A small clue, without the possibility of being corroborated, was enough for the mother to call her daughter excitedly, convinced that the reunion was near.
He did not survive the announcement.
Hours after that last search, two young men murdered María del Rosario Zavala Aguilar at the door of her home. They rang the bell before dawn and waited for her to open. She was riddled with six bullets. It was on October 14, 2020 in the same house where ten months ago Yatziri was kidnapped. She was 45 years old, married and left behind with six children. One of them is still missing.
Months before she was shot, the woman said she was not afraid. He didn’t feel targeted by anyone or say he needed protection. If anyone harassed her, it was the authorities, who frequently raided her home for drugs.
“Instead of investigating me, why don’t they look for my son?” he complained.
On the night of his murder, a National Guard patrol went to the house again, saying they had received a complaint. Hours later they were not there when the hitmen killed the seeker.
The murder of María Rosario Zavala Aguilar was the first in a series of violent deaths suffered by relatives of the disappeared. With it there are five seekers who took their lives during the current six-year term of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. On July 19, 2019, Zenaida Pulido was murdered in Aquila, Michoacán. In 2020 it was Rosario. In 2021, the number of victims increased: Javier Barajas, shot dead in Salvatierra, Guanajuato, on May 29; Aranza Ramos, murdered inside her home in Guaymas, Sonora, on July 17; and Nicanor Araiza, murdered in Zacatecas on 31 July.
Rosario’s family did not want to make the murder public for months. They were afraid. Now they are still unprotected but decided to release it in case anyone has any clues that lead them to find Yatziri. Their mother will no longer be returned, but they dream of being given their brother.
María Rosario Zavala Aguilar’s life changed forever on December 23, 2019. The day before, the family had been celebrating Yatziri’s 16th birthday. His sister Joanna promised him that he would buy some tennis shoes and it was planned that that day they would go for them. The next day I could premiere them at Christmas dinner.
He never got to do it.
After 2 pm, five armed men broke into the family home, hitting those on the ground floor. The house has three floors and is one of the highest in the colony, located on the outskirts of León. Downstairs there is a grocery store from which you access the main living room, with a large TV, two sofas and a small kitchenette. Upstairs, the bedrooms and an area that is used as a warehouse. Yatziri was going downstairs when he saw the first guy with a gun.
“Give us the money children of your fucking mother!” he shouted. The men began to take clothes that the family sells on the tianguis, cell phones, the laptop of one of the daughters. In the midst of the confusion, one of the assailants grabbed Yatziri’s pregnant sister Yésica and threatened to take her away. At that moment the room was a mess: screams, threats, a guy chasing one of the girls, terrified boys. And Yatziri, in the midst of that horror, managed to redeem himself for his sister. So they took it away. “It’s so they stop hitting him,” he told his aunt before disappearing from the scene. His father, from the third floor, threw several bricks into the van while Rosario yelled at them from below to return his son. The men rafaguearon the façade and marcthey did at full speed.
All this happened in broad daylight, in a popular colony of León, a city of almost one million 800 thousand inhabitants.
From that moment begins an ordeal for Rosario Zavala.
“Some armed people came in and took him from here. He didn’t come out of his own volition, they got him out of here,” she said in an interview in August 2020, three months before she was murdered.
Rosario was a strong woman and they said of her that she had a difficult character because she did not shut up before anything. He had an oval face and very marked dark circles. On her left arm she had tattooed an image of Saint Death, of which she was a devotee. On the second floor of the house there is installed an altar with dozens of images of popular figure of worship. Every month the faithful arrived to light a candle or ask for some impossible. That’s why she was known throughout the colony.
In February 2012 Rosario had a setback. She was arrested with marijuana and cocaine for sale and jailed for a year. That arrest will haunt him for life.
“I walked through bad steps, I already told the investigation. But I got off on track and got to work. A mistake is made by anyone and it is affecting me with my son,” he said, in an interview, in August 2020.
Stigma will also reach you in the search for your child. It seemed that the police were more interested in investigating her than in find out Yatziri’s whereabouts. Periodically, state or National Guard patrols would break into the home to conduct a search. So did the Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office through agents of the Attorney General’s Office and Criminal Investigation Agents who stigmatized her for her past.
The Platform for Peace and Justice accompanied Rosario to file a complaint with the local human rights agency, which channeled it to the CNDH. The progress on this abuse of authority and the raid by the National Guard is currently unknown.
His past was also one of the reasons investigators explain the kidnapping of his son. The theory was that he had been taken away to teach his mother a lesson. That years after she was imprisoned, someone looked again for Rosario Zavala to offer her to get back into the drug sales business. She rejected him and captured her son as punishment.
Someone testified in the Prosecutor’s Office that she was “the Aunt,” and that her son had been taken away for his refusal to sell drugs.
Her daughter Joanna explains the reason for the nickname: “they called her the Aunt, but not because she sold drugs, but because she believed a lot in the Saint”.
Graves denied by the State
Guanajuato is the most violent state in Mexico. In 2020, more than 5 thousand people were killed out of the 34 thousand who lost their lives violently throughout the country. This means a rate of 73 homicides per 100 thousand people, above countries such as Honduras or El Salvador, which for years were considered some of the most dangerous territories in the world.
This excessive violence is explained by the struggle between the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, a local group originally dedicated to fuel theft, and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation, the fastest growing structure in recent years. The arrest of José Antonio Yepes Ortiz, ‘El Marro’, leader of Santa Rosa, in August 2020, did not stop the killings. There are experts such as analyst David Saucedo who say that this is explained by the arrival of the Sinaloa Cartel to dispute the territory.
In addition to the murders, Guanajuato suffers the tragedy of disappearances. The National Search Commission (CNB) says that more than 2,500 Guanajuatenses are unlocating. In Mexico there are more than 90 thousand. However, in Guanajuato it is a problem that the authorities have recently recognized.
At the end of 2019, when Rosario joined a search collective, state prosecutor Carlos Zamarripa denied that there were any missing persons or clandestine graves in his territory. This official version did not hold water on the ground, where groups of family members grew inordinately. In 2018 there were only two. Three years later there were already 12, deployed in the main cities of Guanajuato such as León, Irapuato or Salvatierra. Since the end of 2020, the findings of pits have multiplied. In November, 76 bodies were found on a property in Salvatierra. In December, more than 100 bags with remains in a house on the outskirts of Acámbaro. If it were not for the search engines these places would never have seen the light of day. If Rosario had not been killed, she would be with her companions digging into the earth to find their loved ones.
During the ten months between Yatziri’s kidnapping and the murder, Rosario did not stop searching. Knowing what had happened to your child becamehe threw in his great obsession.
The latest clue offered by investigators is that the young man was killed. “They told us they had dissolved it in acid,” he recalled.
In Guanajuato, stories about kidnappings perpetrated by organized crime as a form of forced recruitment are common. Teenagers are taken away and forced to sell drugs or become hitmen. If they cease to be useful, they simply get rid of them.
That’s what the Prosecutor General’s Office believes they did with Yatziri.
The only evidence is a chlorine-stained T-shirt that was found in an extermination center and that his family believes belonged to Yatziri. Twelve denture fragments were also found. There were kidnapped several young people who managed to save their lives thanks to the arrival of the police. One of them told the family that they had him naked and prepared to dissolve in acid when the hitmen got drunk and forgot they were going to kill him. Soon after, they were rescued. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Yatziri was able to pass through that sinister place, but these arrests do not appear in his investigation file. Nearly two years after the kidnapping, the DNA remains of the shirt or teeth have not been compared with those of his brothers.
Animal Politico consulted with the Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office (FGE) and the State Search Commission, but at the close of the edition had not received a response.
For Raymundo Sandoval of the Platform for Peace and Justice in Guanajuato, who accompanied Rosario in the search for Yatziri, this case exemplifies the triple victimization suffered by families: disappearance, stigmatization and murder. In addition, it denounces impunity and recalls that there are suspicions about the collusion of the prosecutor’s office with criminal groups.
They also filed a complaint about the slowness of the investigations and met with the Interior Secretariat, to no avail. “There is a kind of political cover-up to the prosecutor’s office,” Sandoval said.
Rosario was always unhappy with the advances in research. That’s why he went to the prosecutor’s office continuously to demand results. She wasn’t looking for culprits, she just wanted to know what happened to her son. This is a statement of principle common to those with missing relatives, almost an offer to criminals: help find that we will forget who was responsible.
“They give me my son and I withdraw everything, but let them tell me where he is,” Rosario said.
He found no allies in the Prosecutor General’s Office. During the ten months in which he searched relentlessly he always felt the disdain of the researchers.
“They told him ugly things, they did treat us badly,” explains Raymundo Perez, 29, Joanna’s husband and Rosario’s son-in-law. He took it upon himself to go to the stagecoaches because in FGE they complained about the mother’s attitude. But the problem was not one of manners but of results. “I wanted the tests to be expedited. They were upset and wanted the work done to the investigators. We were not satisfied. How would you feel if I were a relative of yours?” he asks.
The search is a lonely and harrowing process that families carry out with the sole support of other victims. The intervention of the authorities is limited and the volume of missing persons far exceeds the capacities of prosecutors’ offices and commissions. So it’s the mothers, the brothers, the daughters, who become researchers. They are the ones who arrive first in a clandestine grave, the ones who get into the most dangerous colonies trying to give a clue and the ones who risk their lives to find their loved one.
There are times when these inquiries lead to death.
The Murder of the Seeker
On the eve of her murder, María del Rosario Zavala Aguilar was very optimistic.
Ten months had passed since her son was kidnapped but she did not lose hope. That afternoon he spent it showing the photo of Yatziri to the young people he met in the Coecillo colony, an area of downtown León where the trucking plant is located and where there are several drug sales points.
Hours later, two gunmen ended his life at his home.
It was a few minutes past 6 a.m. when two gunmen rang the bell. Who knows if it was by chance but she opened the door. She was shot six times and left lying on the floor, between bags of potatoes and boxes with water bottles, while the hitmen ran away. One of her children and her husband arrived after hearing the detonations. She was still alive, so they put her in a car and tried to take her to the hospital. What else could they do?
Next to the site of the attack the murderers left a cardboard. That’s where the death sentence was written: they accused Rosario of “talking too much.”
Es powe should never know what those words are referring to. It doesn’t matter much either.
That was a terrible blow to the family.
“She didn’t min’t mi min min. But if her children were missing something, she would take things out of her mouth, like any mother,” says Joanna, 32, her eldest daughter. After the murder she moved into the family home with her husband. There, surrounded by memories, she tries to move her own forward.
“My mother was a very brave woman, who didn’t crouch down despite what happened to her son. He kept going until his life was taken,” he says.
Almost every Sunday Joanna goes to the pantheon to remember Rosario.
He says he has not moved the investigation. That he is afraid that his family will suffer the consequences and that, deep down, his mother is already dead and no one is going to give her back. In Mexico there is an impunity of more than 90% according to reports from Mexico Evalua. If families don’t conduct inquiries on their own, you may never know who pulled the trigger. So the family has opted for safety. They also requested protective measures from state authorities, but they barely send a police car that gives a few rondines before leaving again.
What they don’t want to forget is the search for Yatziri. Since Rosario’s murder, the family stopped going to the Prosecutor’s Office and abandoned the searches in dangerous colonies showing his photograph. However, they do not lose hope of finding it.
“We live a martyrdom, it’s a very ugly thing. They take a person, something from you and take away the prospects of seeing them alive,” says Raymundo, who acknowledges that many things have changed in the family since that kidnapping.
Joanna acknowledges that she speaks of her brother in the past, as if the subconscious warned her of a fatal outcome. “I want to be realistic, sometimes I think he’s not going to come back and sometimes I wake up in the mood that he will come back,” he says.
In her last interview, Rosario Zavala said that there was no day that yatziri’s disappearance would not be mourned. “I see his picture, I cry and I ask my father God to give it back to me.”
Three months after that conversation, two gunmen killed her before she could fulfill her dream of finding her son. That day I was convinced that I would soon find her whereabouts.
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