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Note: This story is more than 5 years old.

Mexicans horrified to learn loved ones were not actually cremated

MEXICO CITY — Every day this week, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, and mothers and fathers have been crowding the government gates in Acapulco looking for news of their deceased.

They had believed their loved ones were in urns of ashes that they kept treasured in their homes or in church walls. But now it turns out those vases could be full of dirt, sand and random ashes, while their relatives’ bodies are decaying in an abandoned building.

After neighbors reported putrid smells coming from the building, police kicked the doors down to find 60 corpses on Friday. On Wednesday, the attorney general of Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, revealed it was likely a case of fraud and the crematorium owner had disappeared.

“We could have enough evidence to file legal charges against the crematorium owner,” Guerrero Attorney General Miguel Angel Godinez said in a radio interview. “He acted in bad faith, giving out ashes he picked up off the floor, according to witnesses.”

Godinez added the bodies were of 34 men and 26 women, between 35 and 70 years old. They were in various states of decay, from more recently dead to those becoming skeletons.

A total of 107 people had given their DNA samples to see if their loved ones were among them, he said. One family member, Monica Martinez, believed she had cremated her mother there in January 2014.

“We had her urn in the house and had Mass in church. We just commemorated a year of her death,” Martinez told TV network Televisa. “We took her [urn] to church every day for nine days so that she was present with us at Mass.”

The alleged fraud is particularly cruel for many Mexicans like Martinez who give repeated Mass to commemorate their deceased. On the Day of the Dead, families also give offerings of food and drink to those who have passed away, and place urns with them.

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Godinez said investigators will look at whether any officials are complicit in the case, but the prosecutor wasn’t sure which government agency oversees crematoriums.

The incident adds to outrage in a nation where thousands have been protesting corruption and crime in recent months.

Violence and corruption affect many parts of Mexico. President Enrique Peña Nieto himself has been under pressure over revelations his wife and finance minister were provided mansions by a company rich off government contracts.

However, Guerrero is an epicenter of these problems. Once a famous seaside tourist town, Acapulco was classified as the world’s third most murderous city in a report released last month.

It is also the state where police and cartel hit men are accused of abducting 43 students in September. Federal prosecutors say the criminals burned the students in a garbage dump. However, the victims’ families refuse to believe the government account, and an independent forensics team said scientific evidence is still lacking.

When the news first broke last week that 60 bodies were discovered in Acapulco, many feared it was another gangland hit. Such massacres have become tragically frequent here.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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