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NPR 2018-10-11

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Mexico's Morgues Are Overflowing As Its Murder Rate Rises


In Mexico, the morgues are overflowing thanks to a rise in homicides. Several cities have resorted to storing bodies in refrigerated trailers. This sparked a scandal after some residents complained about the stench coming from a trailer parked in their neighborhood in one of Mexico's largest cities. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Guadalajara.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Turns out there were two trailers packed with human remains and dozens more bodies stacked up in the city's morgue - 444 in all. Some of the bodies have been in storage for more than three years.


KAHN: The trailers are now back at the morgue, and Maria del Rosillo Limon Maldonado says the whole place reeks of death.

MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The smell penetrates you, totally envelops you," says Limon standing in front of the huge, white building. Limon and her husband are from the state of Puebla and saw news of the trailers on TV. Their daughter, who was 19 and four months pregnant, went missing in 2015. They thought maybe she's in one of the trailers.

MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We have seen so many bodies during these long three years searching for her," says Limon. People from all over Mexico have flooded to the morgue in Guadalajara in search of their relatives. About a hundred show up every day. Homicides are at record rates in Mexico. Nearly 30,000 people were murdered last year. This year is worse. Maria Ramos is also waiting outside. Her 34-year-old son went missing in October. She says authorities took her DNA sample then, but according to the news report she's seen, they haven't done anything to identify the hundreds of bodies inside.

MARIA RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "How am I ever going to find my son," she says. "I feel so helpless and furious at the same time," she sobs. The governor has given the new director of the morgue, Carlos Daniel Barba Rodriguez, until Monday to clear all the bodies out.


KAHN: "Well, now I will have to get done as quick as possible all the work that these people didn't get done in the last three years," he says. Five officials, including the past director, have been fired since the scandal erupted. Confusion over a new law prohibiting the cremation of crime victims led to the backlog, says Barba Rodriguez, that and negligence by the former director. Calls to the former director weren't returned. He's denied any wrongdoing. Barba Rodriguez says once proper identification of the bodies is done, they can legally be interred. But there's another problem - the seemingly endless arrival of new bodies.

Police officers climb into their truck and drive out of the Robles neighborhood on a recent night on the outskirts of Guadalajara. They just finished recovering four bodies from a clandestine shallow grave in an empty field behind the rows of houses.

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are no longer known as Robles. Now, it's the Robles graveyard," says a resident who would only give me her first name, Maria, fearful of the drug gangs that are dumping bodies here. The state of Jalisco is home to the country's largest and most vicious drug gang, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Last year, more than 1,300 murders were reported in the state. This year's figures have already surpassed that. Meanwhile, workers at one of the city's largest cemeteries are quickly refurbishing rows of concrete crypts for the hundreds of bodies still at the morgue. Dozens of bodies have already been placed here, especially from families who can't afford a funeral, like Maria del Transito Zamora. Her son was the first identified out of the morgue.


KAHN: "I wanted to have the funeral here at my home," she tells me as we talk in the living room of her small house where a picture of her son and grandson are surrounded by white roses and votive candles. But the authorities who only paid for the internment wouldn't allow it. It took Transito Zamora months to get her son out of the morgue. She's still waiting for authorities to allow her to give her grandson a final goodbye. Both of the men were abducted together earlier this year, but she says officials still haven't figured out which body is her grandson's among the hundreds still at the morgue. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Guadalajara.

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