Thousands of people gathered in Mexico's second-largest city Thursday to protest the deaths of three film students who were killed and dissolved in acid in a case that has highlighted the disappearance of the country's youth amid a vicious drug war.
The students were abducted March 19 on the outskirts of Guadalajara after working on a film project for school at a location that authorities say was being watched by members of a cartel. Their disappearance had become emblematic of Mexico's 35,000 missing people and drew the attention of celebrities, including Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.
Mexicans were horrified by this week's announcement by prosecutors that they had been killed and their bodies dissolved in acid.
"We demand justice, not only for our three colleagues but for the thousands of missing" in the state of Jalisco and the country, said Oscar Juarez, a student leader at ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara.
The protest wasn't as large as some protests for the 43 students at the Ayotzinapa teachers' college in Guerrero state who disappeared in 2014, but local media reported about 12,000 participants in Guadalajara and in another demonstration in Mexico City.
At the end of the Thursday's march, organizers said: "Our dreams and our voices will not be dissolved in acid."
Human rights monitors say the case highlighted a problem that successive Mexican governments have failed to solve: the disappearance of Mexico's youth.
According to federal statistics, at least 15,516 people between the ages of 13 and 29 are officially listed as missing in the country, representing about 43 percent of the disappeared of all ages. The number of minors missing is over 7,000, according to statistics from the Interior Department.
Juan Martin Perez, director of an NGO known as the Rights to Childhood, said the disappearance of children, teens and young adults is attributable to factors including organized crime, lack of protection by the government, corruption and authorities' complicity with criminal groups in many places.
Perez called youth disappearance an "epidemic" and said the statistics reveal certain trends that are particularly alarming: Between 2012 and 2014 the number of adolescent women who disappeared spiked 200 percent.
There is a "pattern of negligence and omission in searching" by authorities, accompanied by common tendencies to criminalize victims, and to try to "cook the numbers" on disappearances by officially declaring victims dead before investigations are concluded and waiting 48 hours to begin investigating — even though experts say that period is the most vital if the victim is to be found alive.
Perez said another problem is gangs' use of teens as essentially disposable labor. His organization estimates that between 30,000 and 35,000 adolescents are "victims of forced recruitment" by cartels and should themselves be considered victims of violence.