Ten years ago on August 16, an armed group entered a small town in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua and opened fire, killing 12 young people and a baby. The tragedy marked the first civilian massacre in Mexico's so-called war on drugs, but there's no end in sight.
The people of Creel, alongside State Governor Javier Corral, marched at noon local time then held a mass in memory of the victims, with words of support for bereaved family and friends. The event was organized by the Solidarity and Human Rights Defense Commission.
On August 16, 2008, young people were participating in a barefoot family race, one carrying his baby in his arms, when a group of unidentified assailants opened fire. The police and other authorities had already fled left the town, at the entrance of the Tarahumara mountain chain –one of the zones most affected by organized crime.
When the massacre began, the town's Jesuit priest Javier Avila Aguirre was giving a mass. In the absence of authorities, he assumed a leadership role and, with the help of local people, collected evidence on the orders of State Prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez.
The victims were lberto Villalobos Chavez; Juan Carlos Loya Molina; Daniel Alejandro Parra Mendoza; Alfredo Caro Mendoza; Luis Javier Montañez Carrasco; Fernando Adan Cordova Galdean; Kritian Loya Ortiz; Edgar Alfredo Loya Ochoa; Alfredo Horacio Aguirre Orpinel; Luis Daniel Armendáriz Galdean; Oscar Felipe Lozano Lozano, Edgar Arnoldo Loya Encinas and Rene Lozano.
"We will keep the memory alive, even though the systems bet on oblivion," said Avila, the priest. "I'll retake the case as a councilor because we won't accept this tragedy – the first massacre in the country – gets filed away."
Two years later came the massacre of Salvacar in Ciudad Juarez, in which 15 high school students were killed at a party. Then San Fernando, in which 72 Central and South American migrants were executed. By 2011, the Reforma news outlet had reported 70 massacres in Mexico.
Many such crimes go unpunished while those seeking justice are criminalized and persecuted by cartels and corrupt authorities alike. Daniel Parra Urias, father of one of the boys killed in Creel and one of the most high-profile activists in the case, was murdered in 2009.
Two months after the Creel massacre, authorities arrested Luis Raul Perez. Prosecutors claim Perez handed over a truck to Sandro Romero, one of the accused, and was present at a meeting with hitmen prior to the murders. He is also accused of being in charge of notifying the killers by radio if any police approached.
Romero was also arrested but later released in 2014 due to lack of evidence. Jorge Salvador Villa was also released early, in 2012, after collaborating in the case. Ivan Montes Gonzalez, nephew of former Prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez, was also accused of participating, but was killed in 2013.
Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for Oscar Alberto Mancinas and Antonio Casavantes Calderon, both of whom remain at large.
"The current cases and the past ones are united by impunity; the cry for justice, the cry to not bury any of the cases," said Avila.
Relatives of the victims participated in the search for truth and protested impunity after the tragedy. They blocked the only tourist train in Mexico, the Chepe, which stops in Creel, and the main highway that enters the mountain chain.
The motives for the massacre are still unknown.