The Ayotzinapa Platform: What happened to the 43 disappeared Mexican students?

Through an online platform, Forensic Architecture has reconstructed the events surrounding the disappearances, with the goal of furthering the investigation of the case that's still unclarified three years later. Español

Forensic Architecture Manuella Libardi
7 September 2017

As part of an on-site visit to Mexico, a delegation of the IACHR visited the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa, in Iguala, Guerrero State. Photo: IACHR (Flickr). Some rights reserved.

In Latin America, constantly worrying about the safety of one’s growing children is second nature. First nature, I’d say, as evidenced by the first words my father pronounced as he hugged my mother after a burglar broke into our home in Brazil with her inside: “What if the kids had been home?”

I was only a kid – 9 or 10 and my brother two years younger. This fear only worsens as Latin American children get older and begin to venture into the world on their own. So when 43 teenagers and young adults on a trip to Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre vanished, every Latin American parent at one point must have thought: “It could have been my son.” I know my mother did. 

Another anniversary of the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College students in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico is upon us. After three years, more questions have been raised than questions have been answered. Details of exactly what took place between that Friday and Saturday remain unclear. Official investigations claim the town’s mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, and his wife orchestrated the kidnapping and killings. However, other reports point to the involvement of federal forces while others accuse the Mexican Army of direct involvement in the kidnapping and murder of the students. 

These families deserve closure. With them in mind, Forensic Architecture, a London-based agency that conducts research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organisations, and political and environmental justice groups, has reconstructed the events of Sept. 26 and 27, 2014, which is presented as a forensic tool for parents, investigators and the general public to further the investigation. Below are the details of how to use the platform, which was launched today. 

Ayotzinapa 2_0.jpg

As part of the on-site visit to Mexico, a delegation of the IACHR visited the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa, in Iguala, Guerrero State. Photo: IACHR (Flickr). Some rights reserved.

The Platform 

A project by Forensic Architecture in collaboration with Centro Prodh, EAAF, MUAC for the families of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa. 

An interactive cartographic platform which visualizes, for the first time, the attacks that led to the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico. 

Combining cartography and 3D modelling, the platform shows:

• The progression, escalation and geographic spread of the violence of the night of 26-27 Septiembre 2014

• The level of coordination and collusion between state agencies and organized crime

• The extent of the disruption and distortion of evidence by state agencies 

The case of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico has been comprehensively reconstructed, for the first time, showing the entirety of the known events that took place that night in and around the town of Iguala, in Mexico’s Guerrero state. It is presented as a forensic tool for parents, investigators and the general public to further the investigation. 

Commissioned by Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (EAAF) and Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh), acting on behalf of the families of the the victims, Forensic Architecture, a University of London-based investigative agency specializing in

spatial and data analysis, has designed a new investigative tool to map and examine the multiple overlapping and conflicting narratives of that night. 

Forensic Architecture has comprehensively reconstructed, for the first time in three years, the sequence of events and the magnitude and complexity of interactions that led to the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico. Forensic Architecture analyzed and cross-referenced open-source data, the report produced by the Mexican state’s controversial investigation in the case, as well as the resulting reports from the work of the independent Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the available work of investigative journalists. 

Protest for the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa in front of the Embassy of Mexico in Buenos Aires. Photo: ProtoplasmaKid (Flickr), CC BY-SA 4.0.

The work and methodology 

Forensic Architecture is a university-based research agency whose work for human rights groups and legal teams has been presented worldwide, in international trials and UN forums. The group is composed of architects, journalists, coders and filmmakers. 

The first and most important of our sources are two reports by a group of five experts referred to as the International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI). The GIEI was appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to carry out – with the consent of both the State and the families of the disappeared – a thorough investigation of the case. Their year-long work highlighted inconsistencies and irregularities in the official state investigations and proposed a series of recommendations regarding the search for the missing students. 

Another important source for the work is a book by journalist John Gibler, ‘An Oral History of Infamy”. From October 2014, Gibler undertook interviews with the surviving students of the Iguala attacks. These testimonies provide an invaluable oral history of the event from the point of view of its victims.

The work was produced in stages and included data mining reports, classifying multiple tags and mapping existing evidence in time and space.

a) An interactive cartographic tool overlaid on a satellite image of the town of Iguala,

reconstructing events in time and space, looking at the relation between actors, incidents and two – way communications, throughout that night in and around Iguala. 

b) Interactive 3D models of three of the crime scenes. 

c) A series of videos exploring themes and theories surrounding the events. 

d) An exhibition at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in Mexico City where FA Ayotzinapa investigation will be presented to the general public and where guides can train the public in the use of the platform. This is part of a broader exhibition on the work produced by Forensic Architecture as a whole. 

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Ayotzinapa from Houston. Photo: Marixa Namir Andrade (Flickr). Some rights reserved.


How to use it: 

Explore different incidents via a tagging and filtering system.

Search victims, public servants, vehicles, communication antennas, guns, and so on.

Switch tags on and off to investigate different aspects of the case.

View the development of the attacks with the adjustable timeline. And use the play button to animate these events.

Explore the relationship between violence, coordination and movement. 

3D Models:

Interactive 3D models can help you understand the main attacks against the students at the level of three of the crime scenes (Juan N. Á lvarez, Palacio de Justicia and Cruce de Santa Teresa).

Use the mouse (holding and moving left/right buttons) to move across the model. Scroll up and down with the mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

Add people or actions to the 3D models, so the events happening during that lapse time show upin the screen.

Explore several iterations by clicking the arrows at the bottom of the explanatory text for that specific time lapse.

Laptop users: the right button is the secondary button on your trackpad. Adjust your preferences as you like for a better user experience.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The events on the timeline determine what you are seeing on the map, so make sure you are selecting the proper time lapse so you can see the events on the map (some events happened after that night, e.g. remains found at R í o San Juan). Some events are not located in space, but they do have a set time, which would appear on your timeline. Beware the time precision, which could be according to the source, sequenced from other events, estimated by FA or just linked to GIEI’s publication date. 

Exhibition at MUAC 

All the material released today will also be available to the public at an exhibition at Museo Universitario de Arte Contempor á neo (MUAC), as part of a broader exhibition on other investigations conducted by Forensic Architecture. This exhibition opens on Saturday the 9th of September at 1:00 pm and runs until early January 2018. 

Forensic Architecture team:

Anso Studio

Ariel Caine

Franc Camps-Febrer

Stefan Laxness (project coordinator)

Irving Huerta (CIJ’s Gavin MacFadyen Investigative fellow)

Nicholas Masterton

Nadia Méndez

Theo Resnikoff

Belén Rodríguez

Marina Azahua

Simone Rowat

Nathan Su

Christina Varvia

Bob Trafford

Nathalie Tjia

Eyal Weizman (principal investigator) 

Thanks to: John Gibler, Rosario Güiraldes, Pablo Dominguez, Virginia Vieira, Témoris Grecko, Juan Omar Fierro, Taller cartogr á fico “ Ariles ” , Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), Other Means, Nestor Camilo Vargas, (GEOGRAPHERS) and the surviving Ayotzinapa students and the families of the 43 disappeared for their tireless struggle for truth.


Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh)

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