STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's go next to Mexico where national authorities took away the weapons of an entire municipal police force. Mexico's federal government also took over security there. That dramatic move came after a dramatic crime. Forty-three students disappeared. Then a mass grave was found nearby, raising suspicions the students may have been massacred by police officers working for a local drug gang. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Guerrero, Mexico.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Macedonia Torres says her 21-year-old son, Jose Luis, begged her to let him go to the rural teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. He wanted to become a teacher and get a real job with good pay. He says he just couldn't spend his life working in the fields or selling corn on the cob in the streets like she does.
MACEDONIA TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Torres, who recently lost her husband, says she relented and let him enroll. Like the other missing students, this was his first year. Yesterday dozens of the students' relatives gathered on the expansive patio of the rural school, which sits high atop the lush, agricultural valley and poor farming households it serves.
CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).
KAHN: Chanting their demands to authorities, several family members yell, you took them alive, we want them returned to us alive. This woman, who was too fearful of reprisals to give her name, said she believes the authorities are involved in the kidnapping of the students, including her 17-year-old nephew.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She says the police should be out looking for the criminals instead of hurting innocent people. According to the state attorney general, the students were abducted by local police working on behalf of a drug gang. Thirty people have been arrested in connection to the case, including 22 local police officers. Alleged gang hit-men confessed to killing some of the students and led investigators to the clandestine grave site where authorities recovered more than two dozen bodies, most burned beyond recognition.
Guerrero State has long been a hotbed of civil unrest and violence. Acapulco, a seaside tourist town, is one of the most violent in the country, while the state's mountainous regions are home to vigilante movements, leftist guerillas and ruthless drug traffickers. In an unprecedented gesture, President Enrique Pena Nieto addressed the nation yesterday vowing to find those responsible for the disappearance of the students.
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PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: In the rule of law, there is no room for violent acts, said the president. Nor, he added, is there even the slightest room for impunity. Pena Nieto, who came into office two years ago pledging to curb the country's drug cartels, speaks rarely of Mexico's violence and has instead focused much of his energy on economic recovery and political reforms. If the missing students are found dead, this would be the most brutal massacre in recent years in Mexico. Macedonia Torres wants to know why her missing son and the other students were targeted. The college filled with colorful murals of Mexican revolutionary heroes and paintings of Che Guevara has long been at the center of many radical protests, but Torres says her son wasn't involved in any misdeeds, drugs or gangs.
TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She said he just wanted to get an education and not be a burden to his family. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Chilpancingo, Guerrero. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.