In Guatemala, families say 13 killed in Mexico were migrants not criminals

German and Maria Tomas pose for a photograph holding a framed portrait of their grandson Ivan Gudiel, at their home in Comitancillo, Guatemala, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. They believe their grandson is one of the 13 of the 19 charred corpses found in a northern Mexico border state on Saturday. The country's Foreign Ministry said it was collecting DNA samples from a dozen relatives to see if there was a match with any of the bodies. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros)

COMITANCILLO, Guatemala (AP) — In this impoverished Indigenous village, families are convinced that 13 of their relatives were among the 19 bullet-ridden, burned bodies found in northern Mexico near the U.S. border last week.

Mexico has not yet identified the bodies, so it’s not clear they were migrants. But people in Comitancillo, near Guatemala’s border with Mexico, are so sure that they have already put photos of the mainly youthful migrants — 10 men and three women — on traditional altars for the dead, surrounded by candles and flowers.

Irma Yolanda Jimenez Pérez says her 17-year-old nephew, Rivaldo Danilo Jimenez, is among the dead, according to the smuggler who accompanied the group.

“The man who took them, he called him (her brother) saying there had been bad news,” Jimenez Pérez said. “My brother said, ‘What is the news?’ And then he said, ‘They are dead.’”

“They say they shot them and then they burned them, and that is what we know,” she added.

While Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry is collecting DNA samples from the relatives to compare with that of the charred corpses, what the families say matches all too well what is known about the massacre.

On Saturday, authorities in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas found 19 bodies piled in a burned-out pickup truck on a dirt road across the Rio Grande from Texas. Four bodies were found in the cab and the other 15 were piled in the bed of the truck.

All had been shot, but shell casings were not found at the site, leading investigators to believe they were killed somewhere else.

Camargo, the area where the bodies were found, has long been the scene of turf battles between rival drug gangs, and authorities said three rifles were found in the burned pickup truck.

If the bodies are identified as the Guatemalan migrants, the killings would revive memories of the 2010 massacre of 72 migrants in the same gang-ridden state of Tamaulipas.

Jimenez Pérez said the timing of the Tamaulipas killings matches when relatives lost contact with the 13 Guatemalan migrants. “My brother said he (Rivaldo Danilo) always texted him and let him know where they were, but then he stopped texting,” she said.