About 53 bags of human remains have been uncovered since late October from a makeshift grave site in the Mexican town of Irapuato, an excavation that started after locals reported seeing a dog walking with a human hand in its mouth.
Irapuato is in Guanajuato, which has the highest homicide rate within any of Mexico’s 32 states. The violence is mostly driven by a years-long war between the Jalisco cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Bibiana Mendoza, 32, told Agence France-Presse that she came to Irapuato in search of her brother after hearing reports of the dog carrying around a human hand.
“While people from all over the world were celebrating the Cervantino festival, we were digging up bodies, and at the same time I thought it was useless because they were burying more people elsewhere,” Mendoza told the news outlet.
Mendoza, who founded a women’s organization that searches for missing persons, is working with forensic experts to identify the human remains that were found in 53 bags.
The state of Guanajuato, located in central Mexico, has seen violent clashes between cartels and law enforcement in recent months. On Sunday, several members of a cartel were killed after they attacked a police station in Celaya, a city roughly 40 miles east of Irapuato, where the human remains were found.
On Nov. 9, a shooting at a bar in Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato, left nine people dead.
In addition to violence stemming from drug trafficking, cartels are also at war with each other over the theft of fuel.
“Gang violence, often associated with the theft of petroleum and natural gas from the state oil company and other suppliers, occurs in Guanajuato, primarily in the south and central areas of the state,” the U.S. Department of State wrote in a travel advisory last month. “Of particular concern is the high number of murders in the southern region of the state associated with cartel-related violence.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.