By William Booth
The Washington Post
The hillside silver-mining city of Taxco, on a highway between Mexico City and Acapulco, is noted for its quaint, colonial atmosphere, red-tile roofs and jewelry shops.
Taxco - Victims in Mexico's drug war often simply disappear. Just a few miles outside this quaint tourist town filled with silver jewelry shops, Mexican authorities discovered where some ended up.
For months, maybe years, feuding drug mafias have unloaded bound-and-gagged victims from pickups and car trunks and thrown them down a deep, dark hole. It is one of the most macabre spectacles in a drug war that produces greater barbarities by the week.
For the past year, locals reported strange vehicles on the road at night. The Mexican military in May arrested gunmen who revealed under pressure the existence of a mass grave, the largest ever found in Mexico.
It does not look like much from the surface. A simple, concrete-block building tagged with graffiti covers the entrance to a ventilation shaft designed to feed air into silver mines. The mines have been closed for three years by striking workers demanding better pay from the owner, one of Mexico's biggest corporations.
State investigators rappelled down the 15-foot-wide shaft through darkness to reach the bottom, 50 stories down, where they found a cold, dripping-wet cavern filled with noxious gases. They initially believed they saw 25 bodies, then 55. But as they struggle to reassemble the bodies at the morgue in the capital city, they now believe they have the remains of 64 people.
"It was like a quicksand, but filled with bodies," said Luis Rivera, a young chief criminologist who was one of the first to descend into the mine. "We were stepping on them. It was a very challenging working environment."
The recovery of the remains took five days, and the work of identifying the dead has just begun, a task made more difficult by the fact that some cadavers were mummified, others were dismembered by the fall and at least four had been decapitated.
"There are headless bodies, but some of the heads don't match the bodies," Rivera said.
Based on examinations of wounds, investigators said many victims apparently were alive when they were thrown down the mine shaft. A few might even have survived the fall before they succumbed to injuries.
Medical examiners have identified only eight bodies. One was Daniel Bravo Mota, a Guerrero state prison director who had vanished in late May.
News headlines in Mexico's drug war continue to numb. The media reported on the mass grave for a few days and then moved on.
But violence increasingly is reaching tourist spots.
In the resort city of Cancún, authorities last week uncovered the decomposing remains of 12 people lying in nearby sinkholes, known as cenotes. They earlier had discovered six others. Three were found with their hearts removed. The letter "Z" was carved onto their abdomens, a clue perhaps left by the paramilitary drug cartel known as Los Zetas.
In the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, Gov. Ney Gonzalez Sanchez abruptly suspended the school year three weeks early as anxious parents, upset by rumors and threats on social-media outlets such as Twitter and YouTube, demanded action but feared attacks on children.
The hotel zone in Acapulco has been the scene of hours-long gunbattles between military and assassins who have used grenades. A cartel leader was found and killed by Mexican marines in a luxurious condo in colonial Cuernavaca. In Michoacán state, where tourists flock to see the annual migration of monarch butterflies, cartel gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal police, killing 12 of them two weeks ago.
Taxco was supposed to be a safe haven. Built to mine silver and developed in the early colonial period by soldiers of conquistador Hernán Cortés, Taxco is a hill town of red-tile roofs, restaurants with sweeping views and lots of shops selling silver jewelry to no one these days.
A few blocks from the central square, neighbors declined to speak much about an attack in which military forces, acting on a tip last week, killed 14 cartel gunmen at an apartment house on a quiet street. The street-level apartment, its windows shot out and walls pocked with bullet holes, still smells rank with blood.