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For Parents Of Missing Mexican Students, Disbelief And Hope

Image: MEXICO-CRIME-STUDENTS-PROTEST

A woman takes part in a protest to demand the safe return of 43 students who went missing in southern Mexico, after an attack by gang-linked police last september 26, in Tixtla, Guerrero state, Mexico on November 13, 2014. The parents of 43 college students who are missing and feared to have been killed began a protest road tour of Mexico on Thursday to pile pressure on the already under-fire government. PEDRO PARDO / AFP - Getty Images

Maria Telumbre spends her days making tortillas over hot coals and knows it takes at least 4 hours for a small goat to cook. So she doesn't believe and accept the government's explanation that criminal gangs burned her son and 42 other missing teachers college students in a giant pyre in less than a day, with almost nothing left to identify the dead except some charred teeth and bone fragments.

"How is it possible that in 15 hours they burned so many boys, put them in a bag and threw them into the river?" Telumbre says. She and her husband Clemente Rodriguez say their son Christian Rodriguez Telumbre, is still alive, and they blame the government for failing to rescue him and his classmates.

Mexicans have grown used to discovering mass graves due to the fallout of the drug wars and violence; more than 22,000 Mexicans are missing as a result. But the disappearance of poor college students who had been detained by police has struck a national nerve, and Mexicans were incredulous at the government's inability to find them.

The Rodriguez family home has an altar for Christian, with his photograph, a statue of a dark-skinned Jesus surrounded by prayer candles, yellow gladiolas and orange marigolds - Day of the Dead flowers. Yet his parents are holding on to the belief he is alive. They show off photographs of a tall, handsome young man with a wide smile who at 6 feet tall is a giant in his family. They talk of closing the street for a party they will throw for him when he comes home.

Public fury has swelled. Masked students and teachers march and chant daily, and some toss rocks and Molotov cocktails. This week, protesters shut down Acapulco airport for several hours and burned government buildings in Iguala and Chilpancingo. Some protesters even set fire to a door of the National Palace in Mexico City.

Rodriguez's anger is growing, too. He says the parents must "do whatever it takes" to keep pressure, and blames the school that sent the boys into danger to collect funds, the mayor and police of Iguala who worked with gangsters to disappear them, the governor of Guerrero and the attorney general who have failed to find them, and president Enrique Peña Nieto.

"If it were his son, he would move sea and land to find him," Rodriguez said. "But since we're poor people, they humiliate us, discriminate against us, crush us."

--The Associated Press