Crime and Violence

Mother Searching For Missing Son Murdered in San Miguel Octopan

05/16/2023 (written by abrizuela) – On April 6, 2020, José Luis Apaseo, son of Teresa Magueyal, disappeared from the town of Celaya, Guanajuato, after leaving his home to buy groceries for his four daughters. (BBC News) In the three years since his disappearance Teresa Magueyal has dedicated her life to searching for her lost son; no clues have been found indicating whether he is dead or alive. Amidst the lack of effective investigations and response from authorities Teresa Magueyal joined a local collective called “Una promesa por Cumplir” [A promise to be Kept] which seeks to continue the search for lost family members.

On May 2, 2023, Teresa Maguayal’s search for her lost son came to an abrupt end as she was shot and killed by a group of unidentified males. (El Pais) This tragic event occurred in the broad daylight in Celaya, the same town where Apaseo disappeared. (El Pais) A promise to be Kept responded to the incident in a public statement that condemned her murder and demanded that authorities find a way to protect the family members of their collective who are continuously targeted and killed with impunity. (El Pais)

Las Madres Buscadoras de los Desaparecidos [The Searching Mothers of the Disappeared]

The United Nations reported that according to official figures, 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 1964. From 1965 to 1990, the majority of disappearances were a result of the “dirty war” and were politically motivated. Since 2006, the war on drugs and organized crime that began with former President Calderón has been responsible for a significant increase in disappearances. While the Mexican figures began 58 years ago, 97% of the cases of missing persons occurred after 2006. A quarter of the missing people are women, and 20% were under the age of 18 when they disappeared. Despite the overwhelming number of disappearance cases, perpetrators are rarely convicted due to ineffective investigations. Mexican police oftentimes lack the time, knowledge, and interest in searching for the victims. According to the New York Times, authorities across Mexico are known to collaborate with organized crime groups, many local police could potentially be involved in the disappearances they are supposed to investigate. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee against Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances all expressed great concern over Mexico’s high volume of disappearances cases. 

Michelle Bachelet, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Mexico in 2018 and observed “the courage of the families of the victims, who have been key actors in organizing and proposing solutions, and achieving legal and institutional advances aimed at recognizing the magnitude of the problem.” Given the lack of effective police resources, many mothers in Mexico have begun their own investigations, uniting in groups in the search for information about their missing loved ones. (Dallas News) These collectives of mothers are referred to as “Madres Buscadoras” [Searching Mothers]. These groups mainly focus on locating graves where organized crime groups leave their victims; sometimes they receive anonymous information about the location of the bodies of the missing persons. (Dallas News). 

María Herrera Magdaleno has spent the past decade searching for her four missing children. Times magazine listed Herrera Magdaleno as one of the most influential people of 2023 since she has been credited with helping unite scattered groups of mothers searching for their missing children into a cohesive network which now includes over 160 groups. (New York Times). After realizing these groups needed more resources to help them in their search, Herrera Magdaleno began running workshops at universities that focused on how to search for missing people. She even began organizing conferences where women in Mexico learned how to find hidden graves and identify human remains from anthropologists and forensic experts. (New York Times). María Herrera Magdaleno is also a fierce advocate for finding these missing people on the international stage as she sued Mexico in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for its failure to properly investigate her sons’ disappearances. (Mexico New Daily) 

The work of these courageous mothers does not come without risk. Teresa Magueyal’s assassination is now added to a list of at least five other women who died after searching for their disappeared children since 2022. (El Pais) Activists believe the mothers are targeted by the same criminal groups that are involved in the disappearance of their children. (BBC) These mothers sometimes receive threatening messages painted on their homes and many also frequently receive death threats. (BBC) Cecilia Flores, leader of the Searching Mothers of Sonora has denounced these threats, stating “They have put a price on my head” [author’s translation] (El Pais). Flores laments that “my only sin has been that of loving my children. [author’s translation] (El Pais)


“Asesinan a otra madre de desaparecidos en México: ejecutan a Teresa Magueyal en Celaya.” The Dallas Morning News. May 3, 2023. 

Buschschlüter, Vanessa. “Mexican Mother Searching for Missing Son Killed.” BBC News. May 2, 2023. 

Lopez, Oscar. “Tras la desaparición de cuatro hijos, una madre dedica su vida a los desaparecidos en México.” The New York Times. November 11, 2022. 

“México: Ante los más de 100.000 desaparecidos, la ONU insta al gobierno a combatir la impunidad.” Noticias ONU. May 17, 2022. 

Soriano, Rodrigo. “Asesinada la madre buscadora Teresa Magueyal en Guanajuato.” El Pais. May 2, 2023. 

“Who is María Herrera, Mexico’s “madre buscadora” who made it onto the Time 100 list?”  Mexico News Daily. April 20, 2023.

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