Woman searching for missing daughter is killed in Mexico, 4th such slaying since early 2021

Relative of disappeared boy inspecting a possible burial area
A relative of a disappeared boy inspects an area where the bodies of missing persons could be buried just outside Cuautla, Mexico.
(Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

Yet another mother seeking her disappeared child has been killed in Mexico, the fourth killing of a volunteer search activist in Mexico since the start of 2021.

Activists said Tuesday that the slain woman was Esmeralda Gallardo, who led efforts to find her missing 22-year-old daughter.

The activist group “Voice of the Disappeared in Puebla” said Gallardo was killed in the city of Puebla, east of Mexico City.


Prosecutors in Puebla confirmed the killing and pledged to solve the case “as quickly as possible.”

But the group called on authorities to “leave aside the superficial speeches and guarantee the safety of the victims, and the rights and safety of the families of the disappeared.”

The United Nations human rights office in Mexico said Gallardo had been shot to death. The U.N. office condemned the killing and said in a statement that Gallardo “had provided relevant information about her daughter’s disappearance which was not effectively taken into account during the search or the investigation of the crime.”

In Mexico City, relatives of the ‘disappeared’ have tried to occupy a public space to raise attention as the tally of Mexico’s missing reached 100,000.

May 20, 2022

Gallardo’s daughter, Betzabe Alvarado Gallardo, disappeared in the low-income neighborhood of Villa Frontera in January 2021.

In August, search activist Rosario Rodríguez Barraza was killed in the northern state of Sinaloa, home to the drug cartel of the same name.


In 2021, in the northern state of Sonora, searcher Aranza Ramos was found dead a day after her search group found a still-smoking body-disposal pit. Earlier that year, volunteer search activist Javier Barajas Piña was gunned down in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico’s most violent.

The motive in those killings remains unclear; in the past, many searchers have said publicly they aren’t looking for evidence to convict killers.

Mexican authorities have arrested a general and two other members of the army for alleged connection to the disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico in 2014.

Sept. 15, 2022

Most volunteer search teams are made up of mothers of Mexico’s more than 100,000 missing people.

Faced with official inaction or incompetence, many mothers are forced to do their own investigations or join search teams which, often acting on tips, cross gullies and fields, sinking iron rods into the ground to detect the telltale stench of decomposing bodies.

The searchers, and the police who sometimes accompany them, usually focus on finding graves and identifying remains. Search groups sometimes even receive anonymous tips about where bodies are buried, knowledge probably available only to the killers or their accomplices.

But the mainly female volunteers often recount getting threats and being watched — presumably by the same people who killed their children, brothers and husbands.

A group of international experts say that the Mexican government falsified investigations into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 from the start.

March 28, 2022

After the slaying in August, a coalition of search groups issued a statement demanding protection for searching mothers.

“No mother should be killed for searching for her children,” the coalition wrote. “On the contrary, the government is obligated to ensure their safety in continuing their searches, as long as thousands of cases of disappeared people continue to pile up.”