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Young woman whose death in Mexico is at the center of a national outcry was asphyxiated

The death of Debanhi Escobar, 18, whose body was found in April in an underground water tank, has become the focus of outrage over the issue of femicides and gender-based violence.
A woman holds a photo of Debanhi Escobar
A woman holds a photo of Debanhi Escobar during a women's march in Monterrey, Nuevo León, in Mexico on April 22, 2022, demanding justice for the 18-year-old who was found dead in a water tank of a Nueva Castilla motel.Julio Cesar Aguilar / AFP via Getty Images file
/ Source: Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Investigators said Monday that another autopsy of a young woman whose mysterious death shocked Mexico has shown that she died of asphyxia by suffocation due to “obstruction of respiratory orifices.”

The autopsy results did not specify what had blocked her nose and mouth. The 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar was found dead in April in a partly-filled underground water holding tank of a motel near the northern city of Monterrey.

Dr. Felipe Takajashi, the head of Mexico City’s forensic service, said the latest autopsy on the woman’s exhumed body showed no signs of sexual violence. He said she died three to five days before her body was found.

Escobar was found dead days after getting out of a taxi on a dark highway. The case made headlines because of a haunting photo taken by the driver who was supposed to get her home that night. The driver said she got out of the car of her own accord, and said he took the photo to prove she was alive when he left her.

The photo touched hearts throughout Mexico: a young woman standing alone at night on the side of a highway, wearing a skirt and high-top sneakers. The image seemed to speak of the tremendous vulnerability, and the self-assuredness — or desperation — of the woman.

Escobar’s disappearance and subsequent death sparked protests across the country, where it's estimated that about 10 women are killed a day.

Authorities decided that an exhumation was necessary following differing results from two initial studies.

Nuevo Leon state’s head medical examiner initially said Escobar died from a blow to the head, but was apparently alive when she entered the cistern and there was no water in her lungs.

But another forensic analysis of the original autopsy requested by Escobar’s family concluded that she had been sexually assaulted and murdered.

Her father, Mario Escobar, has said prosecutors told him surveillance camera footage suggested the driver inappropriately touched his daughter.

The case has been shrouded in mystery. Parts of the motel had previously been searched several times before her body was finally found only after a motel employee reported a foul odor coming from the cistern.

Video from the motel’s security cameras suggested Escobar had entered the motel and wandered around, eventually walking off camera in the direction where three cisterns are located near a swimming pool.

Some reports had suggested the woman may have fallen into one of the cisterns and died accidentally. Prosecutors said her body was found in one tank, her handbag in another, and her cellphone and keys were found in a third tank.

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