Gunmen Abduct Volunteer Searcher Looking for Her Disappeared Brother, Kill Her Husband and Son

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MEXICO CITY—Gunmen burst into a home in central Mexico and abducted one of the volunteer searchers looking for the country’s 114,000 disappeared and killed her husband and son, authorities said Wednesday.

Search activist Lorenza Cano was abducted from her home in the city of Salamanca, in the north central state of Guanajuato, which has the highest number of homicides in Mexico.

Ms. Cano’s volunteer group, Salamanca United in the Search for the Disappeared, said late Tuesday the gunmen shot Ms. Cano’s husband and adult son in the attack the previous day.

State prosecutors confirmed husband and son were killed, and that Ms. Cano remained missing.

At least seven volunteer searchers have been killed in Mexico since 2021. The volunteer searchers often conduct their own investigations—often relying on tips from former criminals—because the government has been unable to help.

The searchers usually aren’t trying to convict anyone for their relatives’ abductions; they just want to find their remains.

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Ms. Cabo had spent the last five years searching for her brother, José Cano Flores, who disappeared in 2018. Nothing has been heard of him since then. On Tuesday, Lorenza Cano’s photo appeared on a missing persons’ flyer, similar to that of her brother’s.

Guanajuato state has been the deadliest in Mexico for years, because of bloody turf battles between local gangs and the Jalisco New Generation cartel.

The Mexican government has spent little on looking for the missing. Volunteers must stand in for nonexistent official search teams in the hunt for clandestine graves where cartels hide their victims. The government hasn’t adequately funded or implemented a genetic database to help identify the remains found.

Victims’ relatives rely on anonymous tips—sometimes from former cartel gunmen—to find suspected body-dumping sites. They plunge long steel rods into the earth to detect the scent of death.

If they find something, the most authorities will do is send a police and forensics team to retrieve the remains, which in most cases are never identified.

It leaves the volunteer searchers feeling caught between two hostile forces: murderous drug gangs and a government obsessed with denying the scale of the problem.

In July, a drug cartel used a fake report of a mass grave to lure police into a deadly roadside bomb attack that killed four police officers and two civilians in Jalisco state.

An anonymous caller had given a volunteer searcher a tip about a supposed clandestine burial site near a roadway in Tlajomulco, Jalisco. The cartel buried improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, on the road and then detonated them as a police convoy passed. The IEDS were so powerful they destroyed four vehicles, injured 14 people and left craters in the road.

It is not entirely clear who killed the six searchers slain since 2021. Cartels have tried to intimidate searchers in the past, especially if they went to grave sites that were still being used.

Searchers have long sought to avoid the cartels’ wrath by publicly pledging that they are not looking for evidence to bring the killers to justice, that they simply want their children’s bodies back.

Searchers also say that repentant or former members of the gangs are probably the most effective source of information they have.

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