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250 Skulls Found in Mexican Mass Grave

Members of the Solecito search group carry the coffin of Pedro Huesca, a police detective who disappeared in 2013 and whose body was recently found in a mass grave, as they walk to the cemetery in Palmas de Abajo, Veracruz, Mexico, March 8, 2017. Huesca's remains are part of a collection of more than 250 skulls found over the last several months in what appears to be a drug cartel mass burial ground on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Mexican authorities said Tuesday that more than 250 skulls had been found at a mass grave near the eastern city of Veracruz.

Verazruz state prosecutor Jorge Winckler, who confirmed the discovery, said drug traffickers had used the city of Veracruz as a dumping ground for bodies for many years.

"I cannot imagine how many more people are illegally buried there,'' Winckler said, noting the state had reports of about 2,400 people who were still missing. "Veracruz is an enormous mass grave.''

An activist group consisting of relatives of the missing began searching fields around the area last year after failing to get help from authorities.

"We dig holes, but we try not to touch the remains,'' said member Lucia Diaz, because DNA may be the only hope of identifying the dead and touching the bones might contaminate them.

So far, Diaz said, searchers have found about 125 pits that contain about 253 bodies. Nobody knows when the burials began, but Diaz said some were quite recent.

Identities of two victims

So far only two sets of remains — those of a police detective and his assistant — have been identified, Winckler said.

The prosecutor said that excavations had covered only a third of the lot where the skulls were found, and that more people might be buried there.

Diaz joined the effort after her own son, Guillermo Lagunes Diaz, was kidnapped from his home in 2013. No trace of him was ever found.

"He was kidnapped. Beyond that I know nothing,'' she said, adding that despite her pleas for action, state officials were slow to investigate the case and didn't bother even to track his phone, which might have helped locate him.

Veracruz has long been dominated by the ferocious Zetas cartel. But the Jalisco New Generation cartel began moving in around 2011, sparking bloody turf battles.

Drug cartels in other parts of Mexico have deposited victims' bodies in mass graves before. In the northern state of Durango, authorities found more than 300 bodies in a mass grave in the state capital in April 2011.