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What's next after big protests in Mexico?
02:32 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Officials tell families of missing students about the arrest after a day of protests

NEW: Families reject official accounts and demand proof

Cesar Nava Gonzalez had been on the run since the students disappeared, authorities say

Nava allegedly helped round up the 43 students and hand them over to a drug gang

Mexico City CNN  — 

A top local police official in Mexico was arrested in connection with the disappearance of 43 college students, authorities said.

Investigators apprehended Cesar Nava Gonzalez, the former deputy director of the Cocula police department who had been on the run since the September disappearance of the students, the federal prosecutor’s office said.

Nava allegedly was called to the neighboring town of Iguala, in Guerrero state, and allegedly helped round up the 43 students and hand them over to a drug gang to be massacred, authorities said.

The police chief of Iguala still has not been apprehended, authorities said.

The Prosecutor General’s office informed families of the missing students about Nava’s arrest on Friday, a day after massive protests to denounce political corruption and impunity in the case.

The 43 missing students went missing September 26 after they and others traveled in buses about 77 miles from their rural teachers college in Tixtla to Iguala. They went there to protest a speech by the mayor’s wife.

But a violent clash with police left six people dead, including three other students.

Authorities believe the 43 students were captured by Iguala police and turned over to a gang in cartel territory and then executed in Cocula, 14 miles away.

The gang burned the bodies and dumped them in a river, but their corpses have yet to be found, authorities say.

A mayor arrested, too

So far, authorities have also charged Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca as the “probable mastermind” in the 43 students’ disappearance, and he has been charged with six counts of aggravated homicide and one count of attempted homicide, authorities said.

In all, at least 75 people have been arrested in connection with the disappearances and the deaths, and the governor of Guerrero has taken a leave of absence amid scorching criticism that he responded too slowly to what’s been called one of the most serious human rights abuses in recent Latin American history.

Federal authorities say they heard confessions from drug traffickers indicating that the college students were rounded up on the orders of the Iguala mayor and then delivered to the drug gang to be murdered.

Families don’t accept the official version and demand proof of what happened.

Mexicans have rallied to support the families, and on Thursday, tens of thousands of people converged on Mexico City to vent their anger and frustration in a protest that ended in violent clashes with police.

The 43 missing students attended la Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa, a small college devoted to training students to become teachers in Mexico’s impoverished countryside.

Leftist school

The school features Marxist murals in red and black that highlight Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin of Russia and Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara of Argentina.

The rural teachers’ colleges, sometimes labeled normal schools, are called “devil schools” by critics, according to Luis Hernandez Navarro, editor of La Jornada, one of Mexico’s major newspapers.

“These are schools that are poor, and for the poor, to teach the poor,” Hernandez told CNN.

“These schools are the gateway to move socially for the poor, rural students,” Hernandez added, “and they are one of the few escape routes that farmers have for their children to become teachers and prosper.”

The school has been in the government’s cross hairs, and business groups have requested they be closed, he added.

CNN’s Shasta Darlington contributed from Mexico City, and Michael Martinez wrote from Los Angeles.