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In echo of Parkland shooting outrage, anger rises in Mexico after film students were killed and dissolved in acid

In echo of Parkland shooting outrage, anger rises in Mexico after film students were killed and dissolved in acid
Three Mexican film students who were kidnapped and killed are remembered at a shrine erected outside the Jalisco state governor's residence in Guadalajara. (Ulises Ruiz / AFP/Getty Images)

The gruesome case of three Guadalajara film students who were kidnapped, beaten and killed — and their bodies dissolved in acid — was generating outrage Tuesday across Mexico and on social media.

The internet was awash with denunciations and somber reflections on the wave of violence and impunity that has overtaken Mexico, where a record number of homicides were reported last year and where "disappearances" of people are a distressingly regular occurrence.

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While Mexico has been the site of countless kidnappings, slayings and even massacres in recent years, the case of the three film students appears to have touched a fundamental national nerve — somewhat akin to the way the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February crystallized U.S. attention on the crisis of school shootings.

The frozen, youthful images of Salomon, Marco and Daniel — the slain students' first names have already entered into common usage — have become emblematic of the intractable crisis that escalating violence poses for Mexican society, especially for the young. Their grisly trajectory from exuberant would-be filmmakers to rendered remains in vats of sulfuric acid has exposed as hollow the vows of politicians, police chiefs and generals to fix the problem.

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"We Mexicans are killing each other at levels never before seen," wrote journalist Luis Pablo Beauregard in a column in the Spanish daily El Pais after the news that the three had been killed. "Mexico must newly attend, with urgency, to the disaster that is consuming our youth."

Among those lamenting the slaying of the three students was Guillermo del Toro, the Oscar-winning director and Guadalajara native who has been a patron for young Mexican filmmakers.

"Words are not sufficient to comprehend the magnitude of this madness," Del Toro said in a Twitter message. "3 students are killed and dissolved in acid. The 'why' is unthinkable, the 'how' is terrifying."

Other prominent members of the Mexican film community also expressed their indignation and offered condolences on Twitter.

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"How sad," wrote actor Gael Garcia Bernal. "It's time for this nightmare to end."

Added actor Luis Gerardo Mendez: "What anguish and pain, how devalued life is in this country. Mexico and the cinema are in mourning."

Like Mendez, many commentators bemoaned the nation's perilous state of security.

"To be young in this country implies that if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the smallest error in your behavior can imply your torture, your death and your dissolution in acid," wrote Jose Merino, a political analyst.

According to law enforcement authorities, the three students were abducted on March 19 in a Guadalajara suburb and later tortured and killed in a case of mistaken identity stemming from a rivalry between two criminal gangs. The heavily armed men who waylaid the three on a street identified themselves as cops.

Prosecutors said the three had been doing schoolwork at the wrong place at the wrong time — at a house under surveillance by traffickers who were anticipating the arrival of a rival gang member.

The three students were not involved in illegal activity and had no idea of the "grave risk" they faced, according to the district attorney's office in Jalisco state, which includes Guadalajara.

The house where the three were studying was listed under the name of the aunt of one of the students, police said. But the aunt, who was arrested on prostitution and money-laundering charges after the students' abduction, was acting as a front for an organized-crime figure, authorities said. Heavily armed men had been observed at the home during 2017, prosecutors said, but the students were unaware of the danger.

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On Monday, Jalisco prosecutors gave a televised news conference revealing the fate of the three students — Javier Salomon Aceves, 25; Jesus Daniel Diaz, 20; and Marco Garcia Avalos, 20. All studied at the University of Audiovisual Media in Guadalajara. The three were beaten and tortured before being killed, and their bodies were later dissolved in sulfuric acid, said authorities, who cited genetic evidence gathered at various scenes associated with the crime.

Social media carried photos of happy moments in the lives of the three young men — one playing in a rock band, another smiling by the sea, another in a snowy landscape.

Various Twitter hashtags such as #nosomostressomostodos (we are not three, we are all) and #SalomonMarcoyDaniel (after the victims' first names, including the Spanish conjunction "y," meaning "and") have sprung up commemorating the students and demanding answers. Many commentators have expressed skepticism about the official version of events.

The major candidates in Mexico's July 1 presidential election also condemned the crime and offered condolences. How to stop Mexico's rampaging violence has been a major campaign theme, though many citizens seem skeptical that a new president can do much to alter the deadly dynamic.

The disappearance of the students — occurring at a time of rising crime in Jalisco and elsewhere in Mexico — prompted large-scale demonstrations in Guadalajara demanding that the students be found and released.

Now, with confirmation that the three were killed, new protest marches are planned for Guadalajara and elsewhere in Mexico.

On Monday evening, demonstrators in Guadalajara called for the resignation of Jalisco Gov. Aristoteles Sandoval, a member of Mexico's long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, which currently holds the presidency. The governor said he has no plans to step down.

Authorities say two suspects are in custody in connection with the killing of the three students and six others are being sought. All were linked to the New Generation Jalisco cartel, among Mexico's most powerful criminal syndicates.

Mexico has seen tens of thousands of people murdered and multitudes of others snatched and "disappeared" during the government's more than decade-long "war" against cartels, which control the illicit drug-production industry and lucrative trafficking routes to the United States. The bodies of some kidnap victims turn up in clandestine graves; the remains of many are never found.

Among the most notorious cases was the disappearance in 2014 of 43 teacher trainees in Guerrero state. Their fate has never been completely clarified, despite numerous investigations, demonstrations, legal petitions and other actions demanding answers.

Twitter: @PmcdonnellLAT

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Special correspondents Liliana Nieto del Rio and Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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