Families await 42 bodies, answers after Mexico gunfight

Families await 42 bodies, answers after Mexico gunfight
Federal policemen guard a ranch where a gunfight between hitmen and federal forces left several casualties in Tanhuato, state of Michoacan, May 22, 2015.

MORELIA, Mexico - Families of 42 criminal suspects killed in a gunfight with federal forces in western Mexico angrily waited at a morgue Sunday for their bodies, voicing doubts about how they died.

Around 70 people crowded in front of the medical forensic services building in Morelia, capital of Michoacan state, with some questioning government accounts of a fierce battle between an armed group and federal forces.

"This was not a clash, it was a massacre," said Victor Hugo Reynoso, whose brother Luis Alberto was among those killed on Friday when federal forces fought suspects on a ranch near the Jalisco state border.

Authorities say one federal police officer was killed in a three-hour gun battle that erupted when security forces learned that armed men had taken over the vast property in the municipality of Tanhuato.

The national security commission says superior training and equipment explains the one-sided death toll.

But security experts have voiced doubts, noting that there were fewer weapons seized - 40 - than men who were killed and detained. In addition to the 42 killed, three were arrested.

Officials indicated that the men were members of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, a gang that has challenged the authorities, killing 28 police and soldiers since March.

Most of the families at the morgue came from Ocotlan, a Jalisco town, and said many of the men who were killed were farmers who had gone to Michoacan to find work.

But others acknowledged that they did not know what kind of work the men were doing.

Reynoso said his brother was "calm" and wanted to study but "went to work" after he failed to get into a university.

"Whoever they were, or however they died, it's no reason for us to go through this," he said.

Erika Eunice Hurtado said she saw images of her dead brother on television.

"The truth is I don't know what he was doing there. I didn't now that he had gone there or what work he was doing," she said.

Hurtado noted that news pictures showed some of the dead men lying on a field without shirts or shoes, with assault rifles by their sides.

"There's no indication that it was a clash because the weapons are all placed in the same position," she said.

Bodies on morgue floor

One of the relatives who was allowed into the morgue told the crowd that a monitor showed images of dozens of cadavers on the floor, surrounded by ice and sawdust.

"They told us there was refrigeration, but there's only room for 11 people. The others are there lying, decomposing," said a woman who wanted her son's body.

She only gave her first name, Rosa.

A spokeswoman for the state prosecutor's office and a forensic services official refused to confirm the morgue's capacity.

"They should give us the bodies, out of compassion," Rosa said.

"We want to give them a wake, embalm them, give them a Christian funeral."

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