Slain Mexican student’s friends, family demand justice

Story highlights

Julio Cesar Mondragon's body was found early September 27

The skin had been peeled from his face, and his eyes gouged out

He and fellow students were attacked in Iguala, Mexico; 43 still are missing

The city's mayor and his wife were arrested this week, accused of masterminding attack

Ayotzinapa, Mexico CNN  — 

Students, parents, friends and residents of this town in southern Mexico are demanding justice in the case of a slain student they say was the victim of horrific torture.

The slaying of Julio Cesar Mondragon, the shooting deaths of three of his fellow students and the disappearance of 43 others in Iguala, Mexico, are sending shock waves across the nation.

What happened to Mondragon is difficult to describe. Those who knew the victim are outraged and fearful.

The body of the 22-year-old college student was found lying on a street in Iguala in the early hours of September 27. The skin of his face had been peeled off and his eyes gouged out, according to witnesses and relatives who spoke to CNN.

Authorities in Mexico confirmed the witnesses’ accounts.

Mayor, wife arrested in Mexico missing students case

Mondragon was a student at a rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state. Fellow students say that on the night of September 26, a group of about 100 of them, including Mondragon, decided to go to Iguala, about two hours away, to stage a protest in Iguala.

According to authorities, the students, traveling in buses and a van, were attacked and fired on by Iguala police officers.

Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam says the officers were working with a criminal gang that had deep ties with local government in Iguala and the nearby town of Cocula.

Six people, including three students, died in the shootings. Aldo Gutierrez Solano, a 19-year-old student who was shot in the head, is in a coma.

Forty-three of students were abducted by the officers and remain missing.

The Iguala incident in has sparked protests all across Mexico, some of them violent. There have been multiple acts of vandalism in Guerrero state. Protesters have blocked roads and toll booths in cities like Chilpancingo, the capital. They have also blocked access to shopping malls in the beach resort of Acapulco.

Former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, were arrested Tuesday. They had been staying in a run-down house in an impoverished neighborhood in Mexico City.

Mexican officials say the couple, along with the town’s director of public safety, are the “probable masterminds” of the attack against the students. They were known by Mexican media as “the imperial couple.” Political enemies say they ran Iguala as if it were their personal fiefdom.

Nearly a month after the Iguala incident, Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre, who was criticized for not acting quickly enough after the abductions, requested and was granted a leave of absence.

‘I heard screams and thought it was him’

Neri de la Cruz, an 18-year-old student at the teachers college, says Mondragon was one of his best friends. They would often get together in his dorm at the teachers school or attend events.

“He would always come to me to ask for help with chores and assignments because sometimes he needed to go home for several days to work and make money to feed his family,” de la Cruz says.

De la Cruz was one the students on their way to the protest. He says that when the shooting started, Mondragon ran away.

“Sometime later I heard screams and thought it was him, but I couldn’t find him,” de la Cruz said.

De la Cruz was one of the first to see the picture of Mondragon’s body. He struggles to talk about the gruesome details, but says that publicly demanding justice for Mondragon is the best way to honor his memory.

“When I looked at the picture I noticed that all of his face skin was missing and the eyes had been removed,” de la Cruz says, “I recognized the body because of the clothes he was wearing.”

The victim’s 24-year-old wife told CNN she identified the body through some of her husband’s unique features, moles on his feet and chest. She declined an interview, saying she is afraid for her daughter’s safety and her own. CNN is not identifying her.

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Julio Cesar Mondragon had dreams of getting a higher education, his wife says. He started attending the college in Ayotzinapa in July. He had also just become a father. His first child, a girl, was born in August.

“My baby will now grow up without her father,” Mondragon’s widow says.