Disappearances in Ju-rez

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There's a new wave of disappearances in Juarez, largely unnoticed because of all the drug violence. The victims are all young women, police have no clue what happened to them. Mónica Ortiz Uribe reports.

MARCO WERMAN: Drug-related violence has overwhelmed the Mexican border city of Juarez in recent years. The annual death toll there is in the thousands. A statistic that has earned the city the title of ?world's murder capital.? But it wasn't that long ago when Juarez was primarily known for the brutal murder and disappearance of hundreds of women. The disappearances haven't stopped as Monica Ortiz Uribe reports from Juarez.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: I'm standing in the center of downtown Juarez. In front of me is the central cathedral. Just below is the plaza where unemployed men slouch under trees. There are plenty of street vendors and people out shopping. On the main avenue beside the plaza is a busy transit spot where people catch the bus to poor neighborhoods in the west side of town. This whole area is considered a danger zone by police because in the last three years at least 15 young women have disappeared here. Perla Ivonne Aguirre Gonzalez is one of those girls. Her school photo sits on a nightstand in her empty bedroom at home. Nearby Perla's younger siblings watch cartoons. Her mother and aunt sit on an old blue couch in the modest four-room home not far from the American border.


URIBE: Perla's mother, Elvira Gonzalez, explains that her daughter had just gotten a job at a hamburger stand in downtown Juarez. She's only been working there a week when she disappeared.


URIBE: Perla's mother said her daughter had mentioned an older man who would come to visit her. Witnesses at Perla's work confirm this and say the last time they saw her was with that same man. Police later detained the man, but Gonzalez said he was let go for lack of evidence. Perla disappeared July 21, 2009. More than a year later her mother says police have made no progress. We know nothing, she says. Back in downtown Juarez a shoe shiner polishes a pair of orange crocodile boots. Beside him on a splintered lamp post is a black and white poster with the photo of one of the missing girls. She has big brown eyes. Her chin is tucked into her hands and she smiles softly. This, and other similar posters, are all over downtown. The missing girls all share similar physical characteristics. They are slim and pretty with dark shoulder length hair. Their ages range from 13 to 19. Most were downtown while looking for work, catching the bus, or shopping. Two are university students. One had become a mother just a month before her disappearance.

[PH] JULIA MORALES STRAGOSSO: Since the 1990s, girls were disappearing from this border and the corpses of these girls were [INDISCERNIBLE] found mutilated, raped and in the compost.

URIBE: Julia Morales Stragosso is a local professor who is also a longtime activist and researcher of the Juarez women's murders. She was the first to refer to them as [SOUNDS LIKE] feministcides. That term is now widely associated with the more than 400 brutal murders of women roughly over the course of a decade. The majority of those crimes remain unsolved. The feministcide victims shared the same physical characteristics as the girls who are currently missing. Only now no bodies are turning up.


URIBE: These girls aren't just swallowed up by the earth, says activist and mother Norma Ledesma. Her daughter, Paloma, was murdered in 2002, four hours south of Juarez in the city of Chihuahua. Ledesma has since dedicated her life to seeking justice for murdered and disappeared girls as a founding member of the organization, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, or Justice for our Daughters. Her theory about the missing Juarez girls is shared by other activists and academics.


NORMA LEDESMA: Someone here in Juarez is taking these girls. To what end, we're not sure. But we suspect it's for prostitution, pornography, or to serve a certain people with political or financial power who take joy in possessing these girls.

URIBE: Juarez police don't share their theories about what is happening to these girls. [PH] Adit Acevedo heads the missing persons unit at the Juarez state police. She won't discuss the possibility of human trafficking or offer any other theory about the girls.


URIBE: Acevedo says her unit has made advances, but she can't disclose the details about the investigation. Most of the cases the unit solves have to do with girls who've run off with their friends or boyfriends. The remaining go unsolved. Meanwhile, the families are desperate. Some have gone more than two years without news of their daughters. The latest girl went missing a month ago.


URIBE: Perla's aunt, Olga, doesn't hold back tears when talking about her missing niece. She's always on our mind, Olga says. Perla often appears in her dreams. She asks her niece to tell her where she is so she can go get here. But before Perla is able to respond, Olga wakes up. For The World, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.