MEXICO CITY — Two prosecution officials were fired Wednesday over “omissions and errors” in the search for a missing woman found dead last week in northern Mexico, authorities said.
But the motel where the young woman’s body was found in an underground water holding tank had previously been searched several times before her body was finally found, only after a motel employees reported a foul odor coming from the cistern.
The case of Debanhi Escobar, 18, shocked Mexico, after a taxi driver took a photo of her standing alone on the side of a highway on the night she disappeared.
The two fired officials — the state anti-kidnapping prosecutor and the missing-persons prosecutor — were apparently involved in the search, which included taking sniffer dogs into the motel.
But almost a week after her body was finally found, far from being solved, the case has become more complicated.
Prosecutors showed video from the motel’s security cameras suggesting Escobar had entered the motel and wandered around, eventually walking off camera in the direction where three cisterns are located near a swimming pool.
Some reports had suggested the woman may have fallen into one of the cisterns and died accidentally. But prosecutors said her body was found in one tank, her handbag in another, and her cellphone and keys were found in a third.
Eduardo Villagomez, the state’s head medical examiner, said the woman died of a blow to the head. But he said that she was apparently alive when she entered the cistern and that there was no water in her lungs.
Asked how that was possible, he said: “She stood up. The water was 90 centimeters (three feet) deep.”
The case made headlines because of a haunting photo taken by a driver who was supposed to get her home that night. It was not clear why she got out of the car, but her father, Mario Escobar, has said prosecutors told him that surveillance camera footage suggested the driver inappropriately touched his daughter.
“I suppose that my daughter did not put up with the harassment,” the father said.
The driver has been questioned, and said she got of the car on her own decision. Mario Escobar said the driver may not have killed his daughter but he holds him responsible for her death.
The driver, who worked for a taxi app, took the photo to show Debanhi got out of his car alive April 9 on the outskirts of the city of Monterrey.
Nobody saw her until last Thursday, when investigators managed to pull her body from the cistern.
Critics are disturbed by the fact that even when Mexican authorities are spurred to act by public outcry, investigations are seldom very timely or efficient.
During the week that investigators said 200 personnel used drones, search dogs and reviews of security camera footage to look for Escobar, her body was lying not far from where she had been last seen.
Killings of women have increased in recent years in Mexico, rising from 977 cases in 2020 to 1,015 in 2021. And those were just cases classified as “feminicides” a legal term used in Mexico when women are killed because of their gender. Killings of women overall are much higher.
Disappearances of women are also high, with about 1,600 reported missing so far this year. Officials say 829 of them are still listed as missing, and 16 were found dead.