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Mexican police find body of missing teen Debanhi Escobar

By Kendal Blust
Associated Press
Published: Thursday, April 21, 2022 - 6:23pm
Updated: Monday, April 25, 2022 - 9:08am
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April 22: Mexican police find body of missing woman in motel water tank

The haunting story of a young woman left on the side of a highway late at night in northern Mexico ended in tragedy Friday, after her decomposing body was found in a subterranean water tank at a motel.

Assistant Public Safety Secretary Ricardo Mejia said Friday the woman's body — which was apparently unrecognizable after what may have been nearly two weeks in the water — had a crucifix necklace and clothing that Debanhi Escobar was wearing that night.

And despite what authorities in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon described as a massive search for her, the story ended the way it often does in Mexico: when her rotting body was found by locals.

“The alert was sounded by hotel workers, because of the fetid odors coming from the cistern,” Mejia said.

The story of Debanhi Escobar made headlines because of a haunting photo taken by a driver who was supposed to take her home that night. It was not clear why she got out of the car.

The driver, who worked for a taxi application, took the photo to show Escobar got out of his car alive on April 8 on the outskirts of the city of Monterrey. There she was, a young woman standing alone at night on the side of a highway, wearing a skirt and high-top sneakers.

The image seemed to speak of the tremendous vulnerability, and the self-assuredness — or desperation — of the young woman.

Nobody saw her until late Thursday, when investigators managed to pull her body from the 12-foot (4 meter) deep water tank near a pool at the roadside motel.

Escobar's father, Mario Escobar, told reporters gathered outside the crime scene that he was sure Debanhi was dead.

“My daughter is dead. I don't know what to do,” Escobar said. “The prosecutors didn't do their job correctly.”

Authorities did not say how her body wound up in the underground tank, a common feature in Mexico where local water systems aren't pressurized and every household has to have a tank to store incoming water for later use.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday the case “has caused, logically, a lot of worry, a lot of concern” among Mexicans.

Critics are disturbed by the fact that even when authorities are spurred to act by public outcry, investigations are seldom very timely or efficient.

During the week that prosecutors 200 investigators and dog teams to look for Debanhi, her body was actually lying not far from where she was last seen.

The president pledged to help prosecutors find the culprit, but in fact the killings of women have increased in recent years, rising from 977 cases in 2020 to 1,015 in 2021. And those were just the cases classified as “femicides,” a legal term used in Mexico in cases where women are killed because of their gender. Killings of women overall are much higher.

Just before Debanhi disappeared, another women was murdered in Monterrey, Maria Fernanda Contreras, 27. A suspect has been detained in that case.

And during the week authorities were searching for Debanhi, local media reported that the bodies of five other women and girls had been found in the state. The victims had all been reported missing around the same time as Debanhi, and all of them — four were 16 or younger — were found dead.

April 21: Sonoran officials to help in search for Debanhi Escobar

Sonoran officials announced Wednesday that they are joining the search for an 18-year-old woman who went missing from the Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon nearly two weeks ago.

The disappearance of Debanhi Escobar on April 9 has captured the attention of people across Mexico after a final haunting photo emerged of her standing on the side of a highway.

According to reports, Escobar’s friends had called a rideshare app to take her home after a party, and the driver allegedly texted the photo to them after leaving her by the side of the road. The driver has since been arrested.

"It was like the expression says, the finally drop that overflowed the cut," said Krimilda Bernal is director of the security-focused nonprofit Oberservatorio Sonora por la Seguridad.

She said Escobar’s disappearance is one of more than two dozen in Nuevo Leon in recent months. But for many it the final straw.

There are thousands of unresolved cases of missing women and girls throughout Mexico, and Bernal said ideally they would all get this level of attention. Still, it's a positive step for states to collaborate in the search for Escobar, she said, as the country is experiencing a crisis of disappearances and a major forensic backlog that has left tens of thousands of bodies unidentified nationwide.