Mexico's government said Friday that three Guerreros Unidos gang suspects had admitted killing 43 missing students after police handed the students over to the gang in the southern state of Guerrero September 26.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said evidence pointed to the students being killed and their bodies burned near a municipal garbage dump in the town of Cocula, near Iguala City. Their remains were thrown into a river.
Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping, including Guerreros Unidos members, 36 Iguala and Cocula police officers, and Iguala's ousted mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife.
Authorities said Abarca ordered the officers to confront the students over fears they would derail a speech by his wife, who headed the local child protection agency.
Murillo said teeth of victims found at the scene were so badly burned, they virtually disintegrated into dust upon being touched. He said it would be very difficult to extract DNA to confirm identities of the victims of an incineration that lasted 14 hours.
Murillo said Mexico would continue to view the students as missing until remains were confirmed to match their identities.
Before the announcement, relatives of the missing said they would not accept that their children had been killed until they received results from independent Argentine forensic experts.
The case has drawn international outrage, brought tens of thousands of people to the streets in protest and turned into a full-blown crisis for President Enrique Pena Nieto, undermining his claims that Mexico has become safer on his watch.