MEXICO CITY ― Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met with parents of 43 missing teachers college students for the first time since they disappeared, apparently handed over to a drug gang by city police more than a month ago.
Relatives of the missing have grown increasingly frustrated at the pace of the investigation of the Sept. 26 police attack in the city of Iguala, which also left six dead. The case has shaken the image of improving security that the government has sought to project since Pena Nieto took office in 2012.
After meeting for about six hours inside the Los Pinos presidential residence on Wednesday, parents said they told Pena Nieto they didn’t have confidence in the investigation, though they said the government agreed to create a commission to monitor the case.
“We are not going to trust the words of the president nor the commitments that were made public … until they present the 43 students to us alive,” Felipe de la Cruz, one of the parents, said at a news conference late Wednesday.
The commission is to be made up of both government officials and parents, providing daily updates on the investigation. In televised remarks, Pena Nieto said the government also agreed to provide greater support for rural teachers colleges as well as to the families of those who were killed or wounded in the attack, and to redouble efforts to determine the students’ whereabouts.
“There will be a renewed search plan,” Pena Nieto said.
The relatives came to Mexico City from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state, where the missing students were enrolled.
Investigators have said the attack was ordered by the former mayor of Iguala over fears that the students planned to disrupt a speech by his wife. Police officers are alleged to have turned the students over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.
Forensic experts have combed through 11 clandestine graves discovered in the area during the hunt for the students. The sites contained 38 bodies, but there has been no confirmation that any of them belong to the missing students.
“We are asking them to not just look for them in the graves, not just look for them in the dumps, because we are sure they are alive,” de la Cruz told reporters at a human rights center in the Mexican capital.
Another father of a missing student, Rafael Lopez, also expressed frustration at authorities’ inability to determine what happened.
“If they can’t do it, they should ask for help from the United States,” Lopez said from the school, where he and some of the parents remained Wednesday.
Iguala’s former mayor and his wife are fugitives, and 56 people have been detained, including police from Iguala and the nearby town of Cocula as well as the alleged leader of Guerreros Unidos.
Pena Nieto said the rule of law will apply regardless of “wherever [the investigation] leads.”
The case has spurred anger across the country, and large protest marches demanding action by the government have been held in Mexico City, Acapulco and the capital of Guerrero, Chilpancingo.
Several protests have erupted in violence. On Wednesday, protesters aligned with the teachers college attended by the missing attacked the Guerrero governor’s residence in Chilpancingo, damaging the front gate and burning an official vehicle outside.
Associated Press writer Jose Antonio Rivera in Chilpancingo contributed to this report.