CUAUTLA (Mexico) -- Two young men wearing long sleeves, jeans, and masks reach the stream bank. The stream is reek of sewage from a shopping mall.
They are unable to withstand the overwhelming stench, the garbage piles, or the oppressive heat in their desperate search for the remains of one the tens and thousands of Mexico's missing.
Mexico's missing have been added to the government's register by more than 20% over the past year. It now stands at close to 100,000. Experts and activists like the ones who searched in this town in central Mexico on a recent morning see little hope that the violence plaguing Mexico over the past decade will end anytime soon.
The surge in disappearances is a reflection of the "strong deterioration" of the security situation in Mexico, said Angelica Duran-Martinez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. It is a sign of a decline in government's ability to control violence and the increasing power of criminal organizations. This leads to relatives and volunteers to take on the search for missing.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised to get to the bottom on the 2014 disappearances of 43 students at a teachers college. The infamous crime is still unsolved three years after Lopez Obrador's administration.
While other searchers were working at the stream bed banks, an anthropologist drove into thick vegetation a steel shaft and declared that there was nothing there.
The group includes relatives of the missing, members of government's National Search Commission and activists. They then moved to another spot.
Anonymous tips suggested that a criminal group had executed the victims and thrown their bodies into a ravine.
Searchers from various groups in Mexico gathered in Morelos, central Mexico, to participate in the sixth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons. Each year, the gathering is held in a different state.
Morelos, with only 2 million inhabitants, is a small country. However, it has struggled for years with gang violence. Morelos has more than 2,600 missing people and the majority of homicides are not prosecuted, according to Israel Hernandez, president, state National Human Rights Commission.
More than 160 Mexican collectives are currently dedicated to the search for the missing. Many people believe actively searching for missing relatives is the best way to heal the grief.
Tranquilina Hernandez, her daughter Mireya, has been searching for her since her disappearance on September 7, 2007, after she went out with her boyfriend in Cuernavaca.
Hernandez worked with a small machete and rake to comb the stream banks. The 44-year old petite woman wore jeans, rubber boots and a shirt that had her daughter's photograph on it. She spent six hours searching for the right thing, and she found nothing. But it didn't stop her from being determined.
She said, "Our hope, faith doesn't stop when we go to a location and don't find any," "On the contrary, our motivation is greater and we keep fighting until we find them.
Yadira Gonzalez is one of the founders of the national brigade. She has been looking for her brother for fifteen years. He sold a car in Queretaro and never came back.
Gonzalez, 38, said that even though we don't receive a positive result in the brigade, it doesn't mean that the work isn't worthwhile. She said that the act of searching is a blessing for area families and helps them overcome anxiety.
Gonzalez stated that the brigade provides local families with one less place of work, and allows them to continue their advancement at other sites.
Ely Esparsa (38-year-old hairdresser) was one of those locals. Her first brigade was this month. Six months ago, her son Jesus vanished in Cuautla. The 21-year old left his home in April to work as a truck driver. He never returned.
Esparsa stated, "It's almost like living dead." It's the constant anxiety of not knowing if or not he's there, or if he's hurting. You as a mother know that he will return sooner than you think.
Esparsa stated that the phenomenon of Mexico's missing children seemed distant before her son disappeared. The problem was so large that Esparsa didn't realize its magnitude until it actually happened to her.
She learned as she went, learning from Hernandez and the other members of her local collective. She is aware that her son doesn't have much government support so she must search for him.
Esparsa stated, "He knows that he is going to search even beneath rocks." "I won't fail him in that," Esparsa said.