~ This article was originally published by Blog Expediente on January 9, 2015 ~
“They went to an event in Actopan, at a ranch. It seems there were important government officials there, but also bad people. Pray for your sister and the rest of the girls. You might not see them again.” Yunery Citlally Hernández Delgadillo left home on November 28, 2011, to work as a hostess. She never returned. Neither did her twelve coworkers.
That macabre assessment of the hostesses’ fate came from the woman who had recruited them. “Mireya,” as she appears under an alias in the documents, was later named the principal suspect in the disappearance of the thirteen women from Xalapa. The case is filed under registry AP/PGR/SDHPDSC/M8/119/2013 with the Special Prosecutor for Disappeared Persons in Mexico City.
It has been fifty months since the thirteen women disappeared. One thousand, 520 days since their beauty brought them to the land of oblivion, in Actopan, Veracruz. Since that day, Victoria Delgadillo Romero, Yunery Citlally’s mother, cannot stop imagining her daughter’s body, tortured, raped, or mutilated.
“It seemed like a normal day…”
On November 28, as she did every day, Yunery Citlally Hernández Delgadillo, a single mother of two children, brought her youngest to daycare, and kissed him goodbye. Afterward, she headed to her mothers’ house, where she would prepare a meal for her little ones. It would be the last one she would ever make them.
“She called me, like she did every day, to tell me that she had made chicken with vegetables—my favorite dish. ‘Mommy, I’ll save you some so that when you get home from work you can have dinner. I’ll also leave you some hair dye that I got for myself—a really great red—I want us to have the same hair color’.”
Victoria Delgadillo still has that copper red tone in her hair, the same color that her daughter, who she calls Citla, had recommended. She struggles to maintain her appearance, but her eyes betray the pain of her arduous battle.
The mother, who is a member of the Collective for Peace in Xalapa, agreed to an interview, on the condition that it occur in a public place of her choosing. The harassment she has endured has become more frequent, and the threats more sinister.
Victoria Delgadillo looks cautiously in every direction, she drums her fingers, she checks the notifications on her smartphone, swallows nervously while answering, and talks slowly to hear the voices behind her. She never lets her guard down.
“Over the past few months I have received various calls and text messages, telling me to stop looking for my daughter. That I’m not going to find her. That I shouldn’t keep digging. That for my own good I should stop. But I’m not considering giving up, I have to find her. I’m not trying to confront the people who took her from me, this is just a mother’s love.”
Mrs. Delgadillo, 46, continues her story, recalling that she returned home from her work on November 28 around 8:00 PM, and realized that her grandchildren were still at her house, which was unusual, since by that time they usually would have returned with their mother to their apartment in Xalapa’s colonia Zapata neighborhood.
“What are you still doing here, kids? Why hasn’t Citlally taken you home?” asked Victoria. “She’ll be here in a while, she said that she got called to do an event in Actopan,” said Citlally’s younger sister, who was at the house and whose name is omitted for her safety.
The municipality of Actopan, Nahuatl for “Muddy Beach,” is 43 kilometers from Xalapa, about an hour’s drive. “Mireya” had offered the thirteen hostesses 500 pesos for each hour of work.
They had met at 5:00 PM at the Plaza Cristal shopping center, on the outskirts of the city. According to the schedule, Yunery Citlally Hernández should have returned by the end of the day.
Based on phone records obtained by the Prosecutor’s Office in Xalapa, a little before 6:00 PM Hernández was outside the Plaza Cristal center, near a Telcel store, where she made various calls to a number that is currently being investigated by the federal Attorney General’s Office. Her thirteen colleagues all called the same number.
The situation did not unsettle Victoria Delgadillo that night; she went to the kitchen and reheated the chicken her daughter had left for her and the children, who were still waiting for their mother to return. It was growing late and they wanted to go home.
When midnight came and Yunery Citlally had still not returned, Victoria tried to call her, but the only thing she heard was the recorded message—so hated by the mothers of the disappeared in Veracruz—sending the call to voicemail.
“Where is my mother? I want my mommy! Why isn’t she back, grandma?” the children said. But there were no answers. Victoria Delgadillo silently asked herself the same thing. What she did not know then is that Yunery Citlally Hernández would never again walk through her door.
“Pray for them”
“It was strange, because my daughter called me five or six times a day. When she had events at bars, she warned me if she would be home late. If her battery died, she found a way to check in, but that day there was nothing.”
The hours passed, and morning came with the mother still awake. “I got out of bed and looked at the clock, and I tried to call her again, but nothing. So I asked my youngest daughter to contact ‘Mireya’. She agreed immediately and turned on the computer:
“Hola, good morning, I’m Yunery’s sister. What’s up, do you know where she is? It’s been a while and she’s still not home,” she typed in a message from her Facebook account.
“Hi, look, here’s the deal, they went to an event in Actopan, at a ranch. It seems like there were important government officials there, but also bad people. Pray for your sister and the rest of the girls. You might not see them again.” And with that, “Mireya” disconnected.
She slammed the laptop shut, and the floodgates holding back the horrible thoughts opened. “I began to cry; I knew that something bad had happened. Things were really awful in Xalapa at that moment.”
“I have printed the conversations. I have told the prosecutor to find them, “Mireya” should testify, because she knows where they are and who was with the thirteen girls.”
It has been four years and two months and the authorities simply cannot find the suspect, much less these thirteen victims of insecurity in Veracruz.
The women missing in Actopan, according to the case registry with the prosecutor for organized crime (SEIDO) in the file PGR/SEIDO/UEIDMS/AC/039/2014 are:
Yunery Citlally Hernández Delgadillo; Adriana Saraí Ceballos Vázquez; Mayra Salas Durán; Nancy Hernández Moreno; Luz Abril Landa Ávila; Ana Laura Hernández; Teresita del Rocío Vázquez; María de Jesús Landa Martínez; Verenice Guevara Gómez; Lisbeth Yetsil Amores Roldán; Roxana Retureta; Karla Nayeli Saldaña Hernández, and Luisa Itzel Quintana.
Their families all filed reports, but the majority did not pursue their cases, and abandoned them out of fear.
A Useless and Rigged Investigation
Gripped by fear, Victoria Delgadillo went to the seventh district police station in Xalapa, but was turned away. She was told that they could not do anything, much less file a complaint until 72 hours had passed.
Yet according to the second clause of article 12 of the International Convention for the Protection of All People From Forced Disappearance, local authorities should begin an investigation immediately, even when a formal report has not been filed.
“Sir, I have come to file a report, my daughter did not come home to sleep and I have evidence that she is in danger,” the mother said to the officers.
“No ma’am, it’s early, she’ll probably come back in a bit,” they responded.
“You must understand, officer, something is not right, my daughter is never out of touch for so long,” Victoria replied.
“Surely her phone just ran out of battery, please don’t yell! We already told you we have to wait 72 hours,” the authorities told her, and sent her home.
Despair, rage, disappointment… these are the words that, sobbing, she uses to describe her reaction to not receiving immediate support from local authorities. She had to wait the 72 hours imposed by the officer on duty.
“I called everyone she knew, but nobody had answers. The children were inconsolable, they wanted their mother to come home. I forgot to take them to school. I wanted to disappear,” she says, tears drenching her face.
Adding insult to injury, Ms. Delgadillo was not able to file a complaint until December 5th, seven days later, 168 hours after the disappearance of the thirteen hostesses. The reason for the additional delay? The authorities at the municipal offices had days off scheduled.
She finally gave her statement to the public prosecutor in Xalapa, and it was filed under investigation 1586/2011. Soon after, she was sent to the offices of the Investigative Agency of Veracruz (AVI) where she was told that they could take her to the places where her daughter might be.
–When did she disappear? they asked.
–November 28, Sir, she replied.
On his laptop, the commandant showed her a gallery of five young women, all missing from the same event in Actopan, all of whom had been recruited by “Mireya.” He promised to find her daughter as soon as possible.
Days later, the same commandant was arrested and turned over to the federal attorney general.
They Already Killed Four
Victoria Delgadillo returned to her home, but she did not plan to remain quiet and leave things in the hands of the AVI. She asked her youngest daughter to reach out to “Mireya” on Facebook, and her daughter once again agreed. Twenty-four hours later, a chilling answer arrived.
“I’ll be brief: a very close source just told me that of the thirteen, they’ve already killed four. If things go well for the other nine, they’ll let them go on December 26.”
The mother was petrified. She could not breath, and nearly fainted. “At that moment, I began to imagine horrible things. Maybe they had tortured her, had raped her, or cut her into pieces, like you see all the time on the internet. It is something I cannot explain. I am living inside a nightmare.”
“But, how do you know so much? Please, tell me more,” Yunery’s sister insisted.
“A friend is investigating for me. If you want more information, I can meet you at Nancy Moreno’s house. She is also missing. A friend will give you more information there. But you have to go alone.”
Victoria found the offer unsettling. It did not seem safe. “Leave it alone for now, and print out the conversation. I don’t want to lose you too.” That was the last contact the family had with “Mireya,” the recruiter.
“When they Capture Commander Equis the World Will Fall Apart”
To the shock of the Delgadillo family, a week after meeting with the AVI commandant, federal forces would hand him over to the federal attorney general, and he would ultimately land in prison in Nayarit, accused of having ties to organized crime.
This happened thanks to the declarations of Raúl Lucio Hernández Lechuga, a.k.a. “El Lucky,” the regional head of the Zetas, who was captured on December 12, 2011, in Córdoba. Hernández Lechuga claimed “El Equis” was responsible for reporting on all army, Marine, and federal police operations in Xalapa.
“As a citizen, it is something that depresses and horrifies you. The person I trusted my daughter’s case with turned out to be part of the cartel. The person I entrusted with my own case. The person I told every last detail I had obtained. From that moment I stopped trusting anybody. I did not know where to go or what to do,” says Ms. Delgadillo, looking around warily.
To date, the case remains unsolved, without justice. Her despair is compounded by the threats she has received on numerous occasions. She prefers not to go into detail, out of fear that someone will attack her family.
“My family wants me to stop everything, because the bad guys know where I live. My two son-in-laws have forbidden their children from seeing me, and I partially understand that. But I’ve talked to my daughters, and told them that I will not stop looking for Citlally. Love for her is what keeps me going.”
“My Daughter’s Beauty was her Death Sentence”
“One day at the prosecutor’s office in Xalapa, they told me that her curse was having been so beautiful, so attractive. My daughter is tall, young, with a good figure, clear skin, a snub nose, perfect teeth, she rarely went out without makeup. She always looked put together, always had a manicure.”
On November 28, Yunery Hernández left wearing black jeans that hugged her curves, a black lycra blouse, and black Andrea brand boots. She had a red leather vest that complemented her lipstick.
That day, while she cooked for her mother, her sister—the youngest one—had helped dye her shoulder-length hair that copper red color.
She was a woman who had many suitors, Victoria says. She was 5’7”, and “imagine how she looked when she wore heels. She was impressive, she got a lot of attention. My girl was very charismatic.”
One of her defining marks was a tattoo on her right buttock, a small heart with two maracas on the side—according to Ms. Delgadillo it represented the sound that love makes.
“One day she was showering at my house and was wrapped in a towel, and when I went in her room she wasn’t quick enough and I saw the tattoo. At first she told me it was fake, but later her sister confirmed that it was real… so I included it in my statements to the police.”
Her preparatory school classmates nicknamed her “Fashion,” because she always dressed stylishly. “She always told her sisters if something they were wearing didn’t look good on them. She taught them to combine outfits and put on makeup.”
“She was very outgoing, and I would tell her, ‘Citlally, don’t be so trusting, you see how things are now,’ but she would reply that it would be better if I gave her my blessing and didn’t worry. I know that wherever she is, she is suffering, because she loves her children, and she knows that it hurts me not to know where she is.”
“She was a hostess for Coca Cola, and often got called to promote products like telephones and appliances. During the one festival that happened in Xalapa she was a dancer on Huicho Domínguez’s float.”
Intending to show off her beauty, Yunery Citlally Hernández Delgadillo went to work on November 28. The pay was tempting. She accepted, since she needed money for the month’s rent. She never thought it would be her last event as a hostess.
Her children still cry for their missing mother. They have become two more victims of insecurity in Veracruz.
My Daughter’s Disappearance Has Left Me with Nothing
“I couldn’t keep up the lie. At first I told my grandchildren that their mother had left and couldn’t be found. But then I had to tell them the truth. I did not want them to resent her, thinking that she had abandoned them.”
The Delgadillo children track every movement their grandmother makes. The sudden trips to police stations, the visits of officers to their house, her obsessive day-long internet searches, hours spent in front of the computer without getting up, watching videos with graphic content.
The months passed and Victoria Delgadillo had no option but to be honest with her grandchildren, “I called both of them by name and said: ‘look children, your mother is disappeared. Here in Xalapa they are taking people. We are going to ask God to bring her back to us.”
Sobbing into a napkin, she asks not to have to describe her grandchildren’s reactions. She says they suffered, a lot.
Facing a difficult economic situation, the grandmother, who is now raising two children, has grown tired of asking for help through the Collective for Peace in Xalapa. Neither has she received any.
She currently earns approximately 5,000 pesos a month. Two years ago she stopped paying the national housing institute for her house, since it was impossible to cover the monthly 2,800-peso mortgage, on top of the expenses required for a child in the first year of secondary school and another in the third year of primary.
She has lost her savings, and many belongings have been pawned: “I’ve lost televisions, my grandchildren’s’ Xbox, jewelry, watches. I have a receipt for everything. But in the end, it’s just stuff, and it doesn’t matter if I lose it all to find my child.”
“Times have been hard; I have lost jobs because I frequently have to leave to go to meetings at the prosecutor’s office. If my life ended when they disappeared my daughter, now I am losing most of the inheritance that I could leave my grandchildren.”
Miguel Ángel Leon Carmona writes for Blog Expediente in Veracruz. He recently received the first Regina Martínez Journalism Prize, awarded by the organization Colectivo Voz Alterna in recognition of socially-committed reporting. The prize honors Regina Martínez, who was murdered in 2012 and whose death has not yet been resolved.
This article was originally published by Blog Expediente under the title “Desaparecidas trece edacanes” and is available at: http://www.blog.expediente.mx/nota/17510/portales-de-noticias-de-veracruz/desaparecidas-trece-edecanes
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute