In Mexico, Not Dead. Not Alive. Just Gone.

‘A Body, Any Body’

In Veracruz, the missing are not only buried in secret graves. They are also recorded in small black books, where their names and details are lost to the modern age.

The state’s forensic laboratory chief, Rita Adriana Licea Cadena, pulled out a ledger. In it, she said, were the names of thousands of individuals who had turned over their DNA in the hope that it might match some of the remains disinterred from mass graves across the state.

But no one had been able to computerize the records, which were drawn from 2010 to 2013, some of the most violent years in the state. In notebook form like this, the data was virtually useless. No one could realistically search the DNA samples to find a match.

“We just don’t have enough people to do the work,” she said this March.

Outside her offices, a family sat quietly in the lobby, hoping for some news. The families come often, asking questions no one can answer.

“One woman came into my office crying, asking me to give her a body, any body, so she could bury it as her son,” said Mario Valencia, the official in charge of all forensics in the state. “I told her I could not: ‘How can I take someone else’s child to satisfy your grief? What about their grief?’”

The cause of the disappeared was often a forgotten one — until 43 college students vanished at once on Sept. 26, 2014, forcing a national reckoning in Mexico.

The students, who were preparing to become teachers, were heading to a protest in Mexico City. They had commandeered a fleet of buses to get there, a practice more or less accepted over the years.

But that night, the police opened fire, creating a panic that left at least six people dead. The remaining 43 students, frozen in fear, were rounded up by the police and turned over to a criminal gang that the officers were working for.

The motive for the attack has never been fully explained, and after more than three years, only one of…

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