MORELIA, Mexico — Families of 42 criminal suspects killed in a gunfight with federal forces in western Mexico picked up bodies at a morgue on Sunday and angrily denounced the "massacre".
Around 70 relatives flocked to the medical forensic services building in Morelia, capital of Michoacan state, with some questioning government accounts of a fierce battle between an armed group and federal forces.
"This was not a clash, it was a massacre," said Victor Hugo Reynoso, whose brother Luis Alberto was among those killed on Friday when federal forces fought suspects on a ranch near the Jalisco state border.
Authorities say one federal police officer was killed in a three-hour gun battle that erupted when security forces learned that armed men had taken over the vast property in the municipality of Tanhuato.
The national security commission says superior training and equipment, including a helicopter, explains the one-sided death toll.
But security experts have voiced doubts, noting that there were fewer weapons seized – 40 – than men who were killed and detained. In addition to the 42 killed, three were arrested.
Officials indicated that the men were members of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, a gang that has challenged the authorities, killing 28 police and soldiers since March.
Most of the families at the morgue came from Ocotlan, in Jalisco, and said many of the men who were killed were farmers who had gone to Michoacan to find work.
But others acknowledged that they did not know what kind of work the men were doing.
Reynoso said his brother was "calm" and wanted to study but "went to work" after he failed to get into a university.
"Whoever they were, or however they died, it's no reason for us to go through this," he said. Erika Eunice Hurtado said she saw images of her dead brother on television. "The truth is I don't know what he was doing there. I didn't now that he had gone there or what work he was doing," she said.
Hurtado noted that news pictures showed some of the dead men lying on a field without shirts or shoes, with assault rifles by their sides.
"There's no indication that it was a clash because the weapons are all placed in the same position," she said, also calling it a "massacre."
Bodies on morgue floor
Relatives were given numbers to go inside the morgue while a dozen riot police guarded the entrance.
One relative said a monitor showed images of dozens of cadavers on the floor, surrounded by ice and sawdust.
Relatives claimed the morgue only had room for 11 bodies. The state prosecutor's office and forensic services officials refused to confirm the capacity.
At least 10 bodies were brought out of the morgue and placed inside hearses.
A man seeking his son said morgue officials showed a picture of a burned body. A warehouse and six vehicles burned down during the gunfight.
"The government made a mistake acting that way, surprising them like that with weapons while they were sleeping, instead of arresting them like the law demands," said the man, who refused to give his name. — AFP