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Panel: Government interference made solving disappearance of 43 in Mexico impossible

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A heads up - this next story that's about 2.5 minutes long contains descriptions of violence. It takes place in Mexico, where an international independent panel of experts has issued its final report into what happened to 43 Mexican college students who were abducted in 2014. As James Fredrick reports from Mexico City, the panel isn't leaving because the notorious case is solved, but rather because government interference has made solving it impossible.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: In Mexico, everyone remembers the date - September 26, 2014. Initial reports were fuzzy, and the first government explanation made no sense. A drug cartel allegedly mistook buses full of young male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College for rivals and attacked them. With the help of a crooked mayor and the local police, they killed six and then kidnapped 43. They later murdered the rest, burned their bodies in a trash dump and threw the remains in a river. That might still be the official story but for the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, a panel assembled by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to uncover what the Mexican government could not or would not. Issuing their final report on Tuesday, they concluded this was not a mystery but rather a cover-up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA BUITRAGO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: Investigator Angela Buitrago says the Mexican government was closely tracking the events of the Ayotzinapa students that night. The Army, Navy, police and surveillance agencies shared hundreds of calls and messages before, during and after the kidnapping. Soldiers and Mexican investigators lied in testimonies. The group says so much evidence has been destroyed that fully piecing the events together now is not possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLOS BERISTAIN: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: With the Mexican government impeding their work at every step, the investigation has been a monumental challenge, said investigator Carlos Beristain. As such, the independent panel's work has come to an end. It's unlikely we'll ever know exactly what happened and, more importantly, why these young men were disappeared. It's hard to overstate the shadow the 43 Ayotzinapa students still cast over Mexico almost a decade later. Their disappearance and their family's agonizing, endless search for justice has come to symbolize so much of what ails Mexico - corruption at every turn, grieving families searching for answers and violence in equal parts unthinkable and senseless.

For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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