Listen to the story.
Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. It’s been almost a month since 43 students went missing from the Mexican city of Iguala. They vanished after apparently being kidnapped by local police and handed over to drug cartel thugs. Now the search for the students is being led by a group of unarmed volunteers. Daniel Hernandez recently accompanied a search party. Daniel is the Mexico bureau chief for Vice News.
Daniel Hernandez: Well, we were just outside of the city of Iguala in farmland. In these hills, apparently, the community is very scared because for years they say people have gone up and done in trucks, presumably to execute to people and to bury bodies. And so these are very rugged hills, there was no police protection, so we had to come down after a bit after one of them had received a threat on a cell phone call.
Werman: A threat on the cell phone call while they were searching for these missing people. Who are the people leading the search efforts and are you camping out in these hills? How deep into the woods are you going?
Hernandez: No. What they do is they go up in groups, they ride on the top of trucks or in vans, and they just go really for just a few hours in the afternoon or until sundown approaches because it is so dangerous.
Werman: Let’s talk about some of the risks these volunteers are taking on. You’ve mentioned assassins wandering around in trucks in the hills and death threats coming over mobile phones. It’s strange because, as you said, these volunteers say they’re going to stick around until they find the missing students.
Hernandez: They were going out there unarmed and the attitude is ‘Well, if they’re going to kill us, let them kill us for a just cause.’ That’s what some of them told me. I was scared and worried. We didn’t have police protection, we also didn’t have bulletproof vests. These criminal groups are ruthless. They managed to create, control and put a grip over a city in Mexico by sheer acts of narco terror. But those are the risks that these searchers are taking because the horror of the incident on September 26th, in which police attacked these three buses and they disappeared with these kids, is greater for them than the threat that they would be under on any day.
Werman: That is a serious calculation to balance out. How do the locals there deal with these search parties because I know these volunteers, it sounds like they’re pretty determined, but they must be walking across private property?
Hernandez: Well yeah, and that was something that we noticed. There was a farmer kind of at a distance and each time you see someone up in those rugged hillsides, it takes a few minutes to determine if that other figure there in the distance is a hostile predators or someone that these searchers could approach and try and ask for information. These search parties are not welcome but they are planted there and it’s a struggle. It’s a soft, social struggle, let’s say, between these forces that are institutionalized criminal networks, residents who have adopted this narco mentality simply out of the need to survive -- because if you don’t pay the extortions to these kinds of groups, you become one of the victims up in those grave sites.
Werman: Daniel Hernandez, Mexico bureau chief with Vice News. He’s been reporting on the volunteer search parties trying to locate 43 missing students in Mexico. Daniel, thanks very much for your time.
Hernandez: Thank you.