The leader of a civilian group that has spent the last 10 months searching for bodies of 43 missing students and others in the hills of Mexico's Guerrero state was found shot to death in his taxi, authorities said.
Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, 45, was killed early Saturday night on the outskirts of Xaltianguis, the town where he lived that is about an hour's drive from the resort town of Acapulco. His body was found slumped in the driver's seat of the taxi he owned, a gunshot wound in his head.
In addition to driving the cab, he was a member of a local community police group.
"A car had been following [Jimenez] since last Thursday," another member of the community police who worked with Jimenez told The Times in a telephone interview. The person did not want to be identified, fearing retribution.
Search parties in Guerrero started in November, shortly after the 43 students were abducted and presumably killed in the city of Iguala on Sept. 26. The students were dragged away by local police, believed to have been working with a local criminal gang.
The case prompted a national and international outcry, and parents of the students as well as many Mexicans still reject the federal government's version of events. The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto claimed that the students were killed, burned and their remains tied up in plastic bags and dumped in a river in the nearby town of Cocula, but so far the remains of only one student have been identified.
The tragedy threw a light on the cases of hundreds of other people missing in the state of Guerrero – currently Mexico's most violent. More than 20,000 people are missing across the whole of the country. Guerrero is a major opium-producing state and a battleground for a number of criminal gangs.
Jimenez, an outspoken critic of the government, spearheaded a group of hundreds of people in Guerrero whose loved ones are missing, or "disappeared." Faced by what they felt was authorities' indifference and lack of action, they began digging in the dry, dusty hills looking for bodies and clues.
In an interview in December during one such search in the mountains around Iguala, Jimenez said: "This area – we have always said it – it's a cemetery."
Since the group began work in November, 129 bodies have been found and handed over to authorities for identification, according to information released by the attorney general's office in response to a freedom of information request.
Mario Vergara, 40, whose brother went missing on July 5, 2014, in Guerrero, said that Jimenez motivated hundreds of families to go out and start looking for their missing.
"He taught us how to search and how to push and every day he would give us the energy to carry on," said Vergara.
Asked if Jimenez's death would affect the future of the search parties in the hills, currently on hold during the rainy season, Vergara replied: "They've killed Miguel – we don't know why, maybe because of the searches, as we were putting the heat on the government.
"But they're not going to stop us."