Missing Mexican Film Students Abducted, Killed in Gruesome Case of Mistaken Identity

A student holds a placard during a protest to demand the safe return of three film students who went missing in Guadalajara, Mexico. The placard reads, "It's not three, it's all of us." Photo: NBC News

A student holds a placard during a protest to demand the safe return of three film students who went missing in Guadalajara, Mexico. The placard reads, “It’s not three, it’s all of us.” Photo: NBC News

In mid-March, three film students from Universidad de Medios Audiovisuales went missing without a trace. Now, authorities and the public-at-large know what happened to the trio: in a tragic and gruesome case of mistaken identity, it was revealed they had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel — currently the most powerful gang in Mexico.

According to prosecutors, students Javier Salomon Aceves Gastelum, Daniel Diaz, and Marco Avalo had been last seen on March 19 in Tonala, a municipality of Guadalajara. During their spring break, the aspiring filmmakers had decided to film at a house belonging to one of their aunts, located on the outskirts of the city. Unbeknownst to them, the house had been used by the Nueva Plaza gang, rivals of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Authorities say that the cartel’s lookouts assumed the young men were Nueva Plaza gang members. When the young filmmakers left the house, they had to pull over due to car trouble. While more than 30,000 fatal car accidents occurred on U.S. roads in 2014, it was not a motor vehicle crash that sealed the fate of these students. When gang members saw the young men had been stranded, the cartel seized their opportunity, abducting them and bringing them to a safe house for interrogation. One of the students was beaten so badly that his injuries proved fatal, which prompted the cartel members to kill the other two young men. The cartel members then transported their bodies to another safe house and dissolved them in sulfuric acid.

While cartel members assumed this would ensure no one would ever know what happened to the victims, authorities later found traces of blood and DNA of two of the students at the houses. They also found other evidence, including tubs of acid, jugs, and fake detective credentials. So far, says state prosecutor Raul Sanchez, two people have already been arrested in the investigation with several others being sought. One suspect is reportedly a local rapper with a sizable social media following.

The aunt who owned the house in which the students were filming their project was previously implicated in a human trafficking case. While 87% of people view the practice of massage as being beneficial to overall health and wellness, the case in question — which involved prostitution at local massage parlors — wasn’t quite so favorable for those involved. One gang leader had been arrested at that same home in 2015, and police received reports last year that armed men had been seen at the property. But authorities believe that the young students had no connections to criminal activity; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, what happened to the trio is far from an isolated incident. In Jalisco alone, over 5,000 have gone missing as of late January of this year. One local publication reported that 36% of all of those missing are 16 to 28 years old. Last year in Mexico, more than 25,000 people were murdered, bringing the homicide rate to its highest in two decades. Although these events may seem unthinkable, the tragic truth is that such crimes are happening on a near-daily basis south of the border.