MEXICO CITY — As tens of thousands of protesters snarled traffic, Mario Cesar Gonzalez quietly prayed for his son’s safe return.
“I have to find him,” he said, choking back tears during an interview with NBC News this week.
His son, Cesar Manuel Gonzalez, 21, is among 43 college students who disappeared Sept. 26 on their way to the town of Iguala, in southwestern Mexico.
More than five weeks have passed, and authorities still have not found them. On Wednesday, throngs of demonstrators brought parts of Mexico City to a standstill, demanding more action to find the 43 and accusing the police of cooperating with murderous drug cartels.
Gonzalez, a farmer, said his son loved animals. He had a rabbit, a dog and a cat. He knew how to ride horses. The family was mostly poor, but Gonzalez said his only son had enrolled at the teacher’s college in search of a better life.
He had started at the rural school in the state of Guerrero just a month and a half earlier with aspirations of becoming a teacher, his father said. He and fellow students were traveling to Iguala that day to raise money for an upcoming trip, his father said, although other reports have said that the students were going there as demonstrators for education reform.
Federal authorities have accused Iguala’s mayor of ordering local police to intercept the students to prevent them from interrupting a speech by the mayor’s wife. The resulting clash ended with six people dead and the 43 students missing. Since then, dozens of local police have been arrested, accused of having ties with a local drug cartel.
The mayor and his wife were taken into custody early Tuesday after weeks on the run.
Gonzalez said he was frustrated by the apparent corruption of local authorities, and the federal government’s inability to find the students. Mass graves have been discovered, but authorities have not identified the bodies and don’t believe they are the missing 43 students.
“I always told him that you have an angel,” Gonzalez said, “and I know that angel is taking care of him.”
He now carries a rosary around his neck and said he prays for his son constantly.
“I know he will return to me because this is a helplessness that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” he said. “This is a pain that I could not possibly explain.”