In Lagos de Moreno, a Mexican UNESCO World Heritage Site, bloody handprints in an abandoned house offer a clue to the fate of five young friends believed to have been tortured and murdered by drug cartel hitmen, sending shockwaves through their community as they become part of the over 111,000 missing individuals in Mexico’s escalating insecurity.

Bloody handprints in an abandoned house offer a clue to the fate of five young Mexicans believed to have been tortured and murdered by drug cartel hitmen, traumatizing their community.

The childhood friends have joined more than 111,000 people missing across the country, where insecurity is expected to be a major topic in next year’s presidential election.

The five men, aged 19 to 22, are presumed to have been killed, but with no proof, their families are unable to mourn.

The 20-year-old engineering student and boxing fan had planned to leave his hometown of Lagos de Moreno, in the western state of Jalisco, and move to Canada.

Murders and kidnappings are common in Mexico, but the five friends’ abduction on August 11 while socializing at a viewpoint shocked the country.

The reaction was mainly due to grisly leaked images showing the men kneeling and gagged with their hands tied.

One clip appeared to show a friend attacking another, presumably forced by their captors.

(Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

Authorities are still investigating the crime’s motives, but Lagos de Moreno residents have their own theories.

They include forcible gang recruitment and a show of force by the drug traffickers, said Mauricio Jimenez, a priest in the city of 112,000 people.

He said that young Mexicans are the “soldiers” of the cartels, which use lies to recruit them.

The case has stunned young people in Lagos de Moreno, home to a thriving dairy industry, charming colonial buildings, and flower-filled parks honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city, where criminals watch every corner, has registered more than 400 missing persons since 2009.

Many are believed to have ended up in clandestine graves and crematoria, or their remains dissolved in acid.

The police “are conspicuous by their absence,” complained a local union leader who did not want to be named, reporting a sharp drop in business.

Miroslava Salazar, with AFP