Search for 2-year-old in Mexico leads to discovery of 23 abducted children
MEXICO CITY (AP) – A scandal involving the kidnapping and exploitation of young children in a Mexican colonial town popular with tourists widened on Wednesday when prosecutors released additional evidence that an adult allegedly used other children to help kidnap a missing 2 year old boy.
The search for Dylan Esaú Gómez Pérez led prosecutors in southern Chiapas state, on the Guatemalan border, to a house in San Cristobal de las Casas where 23 abducted children were held in deplorable conditions and forced to sell trinkets and handicrafts in the street.
But Dylan, who will be 3 in November, was not one of them.
Examining the surveillance cameras, District Attorney Jorge Llaven said a boy and a girl, both apparently around 12 years old, were seen talking to a woman suspected of the kidnapping on June 30. Llaven identified the woman as only “Ofelia” and offered a reward of $ 13,500 for information on the location of her or the missing boy.
In photos taken with cameras, the boy and girl walk into the public market where Dylan’s mother worked in the colonial town. Dylan seems to follow the boy, then the girl takes Dylan by the back of the jacket and walks out of the market with him. The young girl is then seen returning alone, having apparently handed the missing boy over to someone else.
Llaven said on Tuesday that a search carried out on Monday, apparently linked to Dylan’s disappearance, revealed a house where children – most aged 2 to 15, but three infants aged 3 to 20 months – were being forced to sell things on the street.
“In addition, they were forced to come home with a certain minimum amount of money to be allowed to get food and a place to sleep at home,” Llaven said.
San Cristobal is a picturesque and strongly indigenous town which is popular among tourists. It is not uncommon to see children and adults peddling local crafts like sculptures and embroidered fabrics through its narrow cobbled streets.
But few visitors to the city suspected that some of the children who sold had been taken from their families.
The Chiapas State Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the children “were coerced by physical and psychological violence into selling handicrafts in the center of the city,” adding that the children were showing signs of ” malnutrition and precarious conditions “.
According to a video presented by prosecutors, many of them slept on what appeared to be sheets of cardboard and blankets on a cement floor. Three other women were arrested in this case and could be charged with human trafficking and forced labor.
Dylan was with his mother, Juana Pérez, at the market the day he was abducted.
Pérez, who traveled to Mexico City to ask President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to help him find his son, works in the market selling fruit and vegetables. She said her son sometimes wandered off to play, but no child had ever been snatched from the market before.
The boy’s father immigrated to California to find work, so Pérez, 23, had to take care of Dylan and his sister on his own.