After students disappear, a Mexican city tries to turn page

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Iguala, Mexico today, one year after 43 students disappear
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After students disappear, a Mexican city tries to turn page
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, children play in a recently inaugurated fountain with colored lights outside City Hall in Iguala, Mexico. Fifteen months ago, when 43 rural college students disappeared at the hands of local police and cartel thugs, Iguala became the symbol of Mexicoâs narco-brutality. Ten other disappearances in Iguala have been reported to authorities since the 43 students vanished, according to the governmentâs registry. But since few people report such incidents when they happen, the actual number is likely much higher. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, necklace pendants in the shapes of weapons, crosses and hearts are for sale at a shop in Iguala, Mexico, a city that for decades was one of Mexico's top destinations for jewelry shoppers. According to the new Mayor Esteban Albarran Mendoza, at one time his city was only second to Guadalajara in gold sales. But in the year since 43 students disappeared at the hands of the police and drug gangs, thrusting the city on to the world's map, jewelry sales have dropped 70 to 80 percent. The local economy is in bad shape and many businesses are facing hard decisions if the situation doesn't improve. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 2, 2015 photo, the new Mayor of Iguala, Esteban Albarran Mendoza, speaks to reporters at City Hall in Iguala, Mexico. Albarran, 47, has fine plans: a transparent government, a growing and more prosperous city. But he acknowledged this month that Iguala remains insecure. âThere is anxiety. There is not peace. There is not security. We want to turn the page on all these kinds of things,â Albarran said. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 2, 2015 photo, Guerrero State Police patrol in Iguala, Mexico. Authorities disbanded the local police force that allegedly turned 43 students over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which authorities say was closely allied with former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez. The parents of the 43 students continue to demand to know what happened to their sons. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 2, 2015 photo, federal police, which are now in charge of security, patrol Iguala, Mexico. Despite the presence of federal and state police, and the military, there is no sign that trafficking has abated around Iguala or elsewhere in Guerrero state _ a producer of marijuana and opium paste for the U.S. heroin market. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 2, 2015 photo, a woman walks her daughters past Guerrero State Police officers standing guard in Iguala, Mexico. Since the disappearance of 43 students 15 months ago, authorities have disbanded the local police force, former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of the 43 students, and 66 police from Iguala and neighboring Cocula have been jailed. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, children play in a recently inaugurated fountain with colored lights, surrounded by posters of the 43 missing students outside City Hall in Iguala, Mexico. Fifteen months ago, when 43 rural college students disappeared at the hands of local police and cartel thugs, Iguala became the symbol of Mexicoâs narco-brutality. Now, federal police are in charge of security, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party controls city hall _ and Mayor Esteban Albarran Mendoza wants to move forward. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 1, 2015 photo, people with missing family members listen to representatives of Mexico's Attorney General's Office as they discuss the progress of their cases in Iguala, Mexico. From January to October, murders in Iguala were up 25 percent from the same period the previous year, with 81 deaths among a population of 150,000. In the once glamorous beach resort of Acapulco, 751 people were killed _ a 59 percent increase. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 1, 2015 photo, a man begs for money as he sits on the road in Iguala, Mexico. Last year, on Sept. 26, 43 rural college students disappeared at the hands of local police and cartel thugs throwing this city in the world's map and exposing the deep allegiances between drug gangs, the mayor and local police. Hundreds of other disappearances began to be reported and the local economy has yet to recover. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, people with missing family members meet in the basement of San Gerardo Church where the Spanish word "Welcome" hangs from the window in Iguala, Mexico. Iguala's new mayor wants to "turn the page" on the ugliest chapter in the history of this southern Mexican city. But disappearances continue, and most of the missing have not been found. For hundreds of families there is no possibility of turning the page as long as they have no proof of death or a body to mourn. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
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IGUALA, Mexico (AP) — The previous elected mayor is in jail, and the new one wants to "turn the page" on the ugliest chapter in the history of this southern Mexican city.

Fifteen months ago, when 43 rural college students disappeared at the hands of local police and cartel thugs, Iguala became the symbol of Mexico's narco-brutality. Now, federal police are in charge of security, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party controls city hall — and Mayor Esteban Albarran Mendoza wants to move forward.

"Ask the businesspeople, ask the cab drivers, the housewives, those who live daily here in the city, what they are enduring right now ...," Albarran said. "There is anxiety. There is not peace. There is not security. We want to turn the page on all these kinds of things."

But how can this city move on when, according to a local newspaper's count, there were five murders during Albarran's first week in office, and 25 in his first two months?

Families search for their loved ones:

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NTP: Searching for disappeared relatives in Mexico
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After students disappear, a Mexican city tries to turn page
Mario Vergara, who is searching for his missing brother, speaks to other relatives of missing persons as he stands next to a whiteboard used to keep track of bodies found and donations made to the group, in Iguala, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. âWe knew we were going to look for buried bodies, but we never imagined that was what we would find,â said Vergara. âWhat we saw broke us.â (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
A child stands in front as relatives of missing people leaf through a binder notebook with images and information of missing people inside the basement of the San Gerardo Church in Iguala, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Little attention had been paid to the many people that have disappeared or been kidnapped in this region since 2010 until 43 students from a rural teachers college disappeared in this city on Sept. 26, 2014. Two months after the students disappeared hundreds of families began coming forward to tell their stories, emboldened by the national uproar over the students, and eager to find their own relatives, hundreds of families came out of a scared silence to report kidnappings for the first time, adding names to a list of 26,000 missing nationwide. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 1, 2015 photo, Mario Vergara, who is searching for his missing brother, attends a meeting with other relatives of missing persons as he stands next to a whiteboard used to keep track of bodies found and donations made to the group, in Iguala, Mexico. âWe knew we were going to look for buried bodies, but we never imagined that was what we would find,â said Vergara. âWhat we saw broke us.â (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Dec. 1, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people leaf through a binder filled with images and information of missing people, inside the basement of the the San Gerardo church, in Iguala. Emboldened by a national uproar over the 43 rural college students who vanished, and eager to find their own relatives, about 30 people gathered at the first meeting in the basement of the San Gerardo church, where each family told a story worse than the next about how their relatives went to work one day and never came home, or how armed men took them from their homes, or how they were last seen at police roadblocks, and then never heard from again. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people gather at the San Gerardo Catholic Church, in Iguala, Mexico. Little attention had been paid to the many people that have disappeared or been kidnapped in this region since 2010 until 43 students from a rural teachers college disappeared in this city on Sept. 26, 2014. Two months after the students disappeared hundreds of families began coming forward to tell their stories, emboldened by the international attention focused on the missing students. The families' message was simple: there are many more missing. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, a family listens to Mario Vergara as they reach out to find information about their missing relative at the San Gerardo church, in Iguala, Mexico. Mario is one of the leaders of a group of families searching for missing relatives. Emboldened by the national uproar over the disappearance of 43 college students, hundreds of families came out of a scared silence to report kidnappings for the first time, adding names to a list of 26,000 missing nationwide. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, Mario Vergara pinches the skin on his hand as he stands in a field where dozens of bodies were found buried in clandestine graves, on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. Mario is searching for his brother, Tomas, missing since July 5, 2012. The first time the men and women in Iguala went out to dig for their missing relatives, they didnât know anything. âWe knew we were going to look for buried bodies, but we never imagined that was what we would find, " said Vergara, "What we saw broke us.â He has yet to find his brother. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, wildflowers grow in a field where the body of taco vendor Carlos Sanchez and dozens other were found almost a year ago, on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. After adding the names of their missing to the lists, many families organized to go into the hills around Iguala to search for bodies of the disappeared. Over many weeks and months, government crews dug up the remains of at least 104 people from unmarked graves found by the families, only 13 of which have been identified by DNA and telltale bits of clothing. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Sept. 4, 2015 photo, Gerardo Alcocer stands next to the family vault containing the remains of his son, Gerardo Alberto, at the cemetery in Huitzuco, Mexico. Gerardo Alberto was 28 when he disappeared on April 12, 2013. His parents are among the few families that have gotten some kind of closure to the tragedy of their son's disappearance. A few months ago, the Attorney General's Office confirmed through DNA tests that they had found his remains in a clandestine grave containing two other bodies. Their son is among the more than 26,000 Mexicans who have disappeared since 2007, according to the governmentâs count. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Sept. 4, 2015 photo, Gerardo Alcocer stands outside the family vault containing the remains of his son, Gerardo Alberto, at the cemetery in Huitzuco, Mexico. The remains of his son were among those recovered on that first excursion in the search of âthe other disappeared.â Alcocerâs epilepsy prevented him from joining the search parties. He is grateful for their efforts, though they brought heartache. âIn life, children are supposed to bury their parents not the other way around,â Alcocer said. âAnd it feels awful, too awful.â (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this Sept. 4, 2015 photo, the parents of Gerardo Alberto Alcocer leave the local cemetery, after visiting their son's grave, in Huitzuco, Mexico. The remains of their son were among those recovered on that first excursion in the search of âthe other disappeared.â Alcocerâs epilepsy prevented him from joining the search parties. He is grateful for their efforts, though they brought heartache. âIn life, children are supposed to bury their parents not the other way around,â Alcocer said. âAnd it feels awful, too awful.â (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people search for signs of a possible clandestine grave after they received an anonymous tip, in Iguala, Mexico. Miguel Angel Jimenez, an activist and community police officer, taught the searchers to look for campsites, because traffickers often held their victims for ransom before killing them, he said, and the graves could be close by. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, a relative of missing people smells the end of a stick she stuck into the ground as she and others search for signs of a possible clandestine grave, in Iguala, Mexico. Authorities quickly prohibited relatives from digging up the graves themselves, saying they had broken bones and contaminated crime scenes. But the families have not stop looking. Instead, they started using metal rods as a detection device: they pushed a rod into the ground and if it smelled when they removed it, they knew they had a grave to mark with a flag for authorities. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people ride on the back of a pick-up truck as they head to a site of a possible clandestine grave after they received an anonymous tip, in Iguala, Mexico. The expeditions began shortly after 43 students from a rural teachers college were detained by police in Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014 and vanished. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people walk in a field as they search in vain for a site of a possible clandestine grave after they received an anonymous tip in Iguala, Mexico. A group of relatives of missing persons in the region has banded together to search for their missing relatives. Since the government began excavating suspected graves found by this group scouring the surrounding mountains looking for their loved ones late last year, more than 100 bodies have been exhumed though most still await identification. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, relatives of missing people gather for a group photo after searching in vain for a possible clandestine grave after they received an anonymous tip in Iguala, Mexico. A group of relatives of missing persons in the region has banded together to search for their missing relatives. Since the government began excavating suspected graves found by this group scouring the surrounding mountains looking for their loved ones late last year, more than 100 bodies have been exhumed though most still await identification. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this May 31, 2015 photo, Mario Vergara examines a patch of earth as he and others search for signs of a possible clandestine grave after they received an anonymous tip, in Iguala, Mexico. Before suspending the search for the summer rainy season, the group of family members searching for their missing relatives had located more than 60 clandestine graves with the remains of 104 people, all but 13 of them still unidentified. Since resuming the hunt, they have found 11 more bodies. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this April 22, 2015 photo, Guillermina Sotelo, who is searching for her missing son, Cesar Ivan Gonzalez Sotelo, leads a group of relatives of missing persons as they look for clandestine graves in the dry brush on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. At least 292 people have been added to the list of missing from the Iguala area since the 43 students disappeared there on Sept. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this April 22, 2015 photo, Bertha Moreno Garcia, who is searching for her son, Jose Manuel Cruz Moreno, walks on a dirt path as she searches for signs of clandestine graves, on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. A group of relatives of missing persons in the region has banded together to search for their missing relatives. Since the government began excavating suspected graves found by this group scouring the surrounding mountains looking for their loved ones late last year, more than 100 bodies have been exhumed though most still await identification. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this April 22, 2015 photo, Bertha Moreno, who is searching for her son, Jose Manuel, checks a stone for discoloration during a search for clandestine graves, on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. Moreno is among those who have given up Sunday Mass and dozy afternoons with family to search for her son. She believes God will forgive the lapse in her religious duties and protect her, even if her husband does not agree with her decision to risk the wrath of gangsters who are likely responsible for so many disappearances. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this April 22, 2015 photo, Bertha Moreno, who is searching for her missing son, Jose Manuel, walks a path lined with over dried thicket, on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. Moreno is part of a group of relatives in the region that have banded together to search for their missing relatives. Moreno lost her job cleaning the house of a teacher, who said that the grave diggers were troublemakers putting everyone in danger in a region dominated by drug traffickers. Moreno pushed back. ââHow are we troublemakers if weâre looking for our relatives?ââ she said. âAnd she fired me.â (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
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Disappearances continue, and most of the missing have not been found. For hundreds of families around Iguala there is no possibility of turning the page as long as they have no proof of death or a body to mourn.

On Tuesdays, they gather in the San Gerardo church basement to listen to the new numbers from the attorney general's office: bodies found, bodies identified, bodies returned to their families. Most leave without answers and return home to await a call to view photos of clothing or evidence of a genetic match.

While seeking resolution of old horrors, there are new ones.

Zenaida Candia Espinobarro already spent her Sundays with other families searching the mountains around Iguala for hidden graves, looking for the remains of a son who disappeared two years ago.

But while she was looking for the bones of one son, she lost another: Armando Velazquez Candia was shot by two men on a motorcycle in front of his girlfriend's house the afternoon of Oct. 26 and died 10 days later.

Along with the bloodshed, the drug trade goes on. Despite the presence of federal and state police, and the military, there is no sign that trafficking has abated around Iguala or elsewhere in Guerrero state — a producer of marijuana and opium paste for the U.S. heroin market.

Again this month, state and federal officials promised to secure Guerrero and eradicate more poppy fields, recognizing that efforts of the past year had little impact.

Not that Iguala is unchanged. Former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of the 43 students, and 66 police from Iguala and neighboring Cocula have been jailed.

Authorities have disbanded the local police force that allegedly turned the students over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which officials say was closely allied with Abarca.

Albarran, 47, was sworn in as mayor on Sept. 30. He has fine plans: a transparent government, a growing and more prosperous city. But he acknowledged at a news conference this month that Iguala remains insecure.

"Exactly one week ago I was saying ... that we had nine, 10 days when nothing happened," he said. "And disgracefully, unfortunately that same day at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. two terrible situations occurred."

The first victim that evening was a taxi driver shot multiple times in his car by men on a motorcycle, according to the local newspaper El Sur. The second, a 14-year-old boy, was shot repeatedly an hour later, just a block from the San Gerardo church where many families of the disappeared have met weekly since November 2014.

Albarran said recent killings have been "very targeted" — a euphemism government officials use to suggest the victims were involved in illegal activities and likely murdered by rivals. He also noted that Iguala's violence is less than in larger cities in the state, such as Acapulco and the state capital of Chilpancingo, "where crime is out of control."

From January to October, murders in Iguala were up 25 percent from the same period the previous year, with 81 deaths among a population of 150,000. In the once glamorous beach resort of Acapulco, 751 people were killed — a 59 percent increase.

Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio and the national security cabinet travelled to Iguala this month to open a new intelligence center and pledged continued government support for the state.

That day, across town, a woman and her two young children were taken from their home near an army checkpoint by heavily armed men. The mother, shot twice in the head, was found dead the following day. The children were added to the ranks of the 26,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico since 2007.

Ten other disappearances in Iguala have been reported to authorities since the 43 students vanished, according to the government's registry. But since few people report such incidents when they happen, the actual number is likely much higher.

Meanwhile, residents adapt in ways large and small. Leticia Salgado Pedro, an elementary school teacher, no longer wears a helmet when riding her motorcycle — better to risk being hurt in a traffic accident than to be mistaken for a hit man's target.

Her neighbors stay at home now, especially at night.

"The people who used to go out to drink, mostly young people, don't do it anymore, they don't hang out on the corners like before," said Yazmin, who has lost a husband and a brother-in-law. She declined to be identified with her last name.

And if Igualans talk about the violence at all, most do so privately. If asked their names they politely decline, "for safety."

But the parents of the 43 students are not silent and they continue to protest, demanding to know what happened to their sons. The families of the other disappeared are still coming forward, seeking answers.

Until then, they refuse to turn the page.

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Follow Christopher Sherman on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/chrisshermanAP

Some of his past stories can be seen at: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/christopher-sherman

Iguala Students: The Disappeared 43
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