Families of 43 students kidnapped and presumed to have been massacred in Mexico have embarked on caravans throughout the U.S., with a march scheduled Sunday in Los Angeles to bring attention to the case.
Several family members and two survivors of the ambush that led to the kidnapping plan to march from Plaza Olvera to the Mexican Consulate, hoping a strong show of support will pressure the government to solve the case.
"As soon as we start protesting in Mexico, the riot police come and they want to get you out of there," said Angel Neri de la Cruz, 19, wearing the red jacket of the rural teacher-training college the students attended. "Here we want the support of not just the Latino community, but all races, to get the government here to pressure our government to resolve this case."
On Sept. 26, De la Cruz was riding in a convoy of buses and vans that he and other students from the rural Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa had commandeered to protest government policies. In the town of Iguala, local police opened fire. Six people were killed, and dozens were wounded.
De la Cruz escaped. But others were rounded up by police and 43 of the students haven't been seen since.
Mexican authorities investigating the disappearance have said the students were turned over to a local drug cartel that killed them all. Men arrested in the probe said they dismembered and burned the bodies.
Authorities searching the hillsides around Iguala found dozens of bodies, but none that matched the students — a testament to how violent that part of the country has become. In December, forensic experts said they found a bone in a dump that matched one of the missing men.
But the families of the victims say they have not seen definitive proof of their deaths, and hold hopes that the missing students are still alive.
"We are continuing the search for our children," Estanislao Mendoza Chocalate, father of missing student Miguel Angel Mendoza Zacarias, said at a press conference in Plaza Olvera on Saturday. "They are not here for six months. We are still searching."
Mendoza pleaded for people to join the march Sunday to support the cause. "It does not matter what color skin you have. We are all humans."
One tearful mother said her daughter disappeared in Juarez, Mexico, in 2011, and she had to flee to the U.S with her four other children. She said there was no inquiry into her disappearance. "It took the disappearance of 43 students for people to start demanding justice," she said.
The march is scheduled to begin at Plaza Olvera at 1 p.m. and end at the consulate near MacArthur Park.
Three caravans are moving through the U.S. trying to rally support from Mexican Americans and others. The one passing through Los Angeles will continue moving up the West Coast. Another is traveling through the Midwest, and one is covering the East Coast. After 43 days, they plan to converge at the United Nations in New York.
Blanca Luz Nava Velez said she still hears her son's voice singing around the house. Her son Jorge loved to play guitar and listen to Daddy Yankee.
She said she believes he is still alive. "I miss everything about him," she said.