Police fan out as they search for stray dogs in a park on the hilltop borough… (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated…)
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities said Wednesday that they have identified a fifth possible victim in a recent string of suspected dog-maulings at a hilltop park in Mexico City, a crisis that has sparked protests from dog advocates and victims' families.
The city's attorney general's office released a statement saying it was investigating a case involving a 15-year-old girl named Gabriela Nataret Ramirez, who was found near Cerro de Estrella national park on Dec. 16, mutilated and bitten.
Gangs of dogs are suspected in the gruesome deaths of four other people -- including an infant -- at the park in southeast Mexico City in attacks on Saturday and Dec. 29.
Police have rounded up 25 dogs at the park, including seven puppies, and promised sweeps at other large green spaces in the city, starting with Chapultepec Park and Aragon Forest.
But dog owners and activists said the canines rounded up and seen in photographs released by authorities showed no signs of being violent or having been involved in an attack against a human. People were arriving at the city's canine-control center in the Iztapalapa borough, where Cerro de Estrella is located, claiming they were owners of one of the detained dogs, news reports said.
Additionally, some families of the victims have told Mexican news outlets they distrust the investigations so far, saying their loved ones might have been attacked by humans and claiming the dog-attack theory is a cover-up.
Atty. Gen. Rodolfo Rios said at a news conference late Tuesday that the city's top forensic investigators had reconfirmed that the four victims identified through Monday were killed by bites, mauling, and "pressure" injuries. They also found dog hair on the victims' clothing. There were no signs of injuries caused by weapons or humans, Rios said.
On Dec. 29, the bodies of Shunashi Elizabeth Mendoza Caamal, 26, and an infant were found in the Cerro de Estrella area.
Mendoza, identified in some reports as a Guatemalan immigrant who had lived in Mexico for three years, was found with her left arm torn off and missing. An infant said to be her child was found by her side with bite injuries, officials said.
On Jan. 5, the bodies of Alejandra Ruiz Garcia, 15, and Samuel Suriel Martinez, 16, were found in the park in a "semi-devoured" state, officials said. In both cases, authorities said, biting and tearing occurred before and after the victims' deaths. Authorities confirmed that Ruiz called a sister pleading for help as the attack occurred, but the relative initially thought Ruiz was joking.
The wooded Cerro de Estrella park is known for its Holy Week festivities and its large-scale reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. It is also known as a magnet for petty crime, as Iztapalapa residents use the park for exercise, walks and picnics.
It was still unclear whether the dogs suspected in the attacks were strays or so-called "wild" dogs. It was also unclear what would happen to the canines sitting in the Iztapalapa pound, or if any humans would be investigated or found at fault for the attacks.
Officials have also been unable to explain what might have caused the bands of dogs to reportedly attack humans. Rios said the investigation was ongoing and that the detained pups were still undergoing tests.
"The dogs will not be sacrificed," Rios said. "They will be treated well."
Antemio Maya, president of the Pro-Street Dog Assn. in Mexico City, said he spent a day trying to gain access to the rounded-up dogs and met people who said one of the dogs seen in photographs belonged to them.
He questioned the official investigation and warned against a wave of "hate" against the estimated 1.2 million stray dogs that roam the city.
"It's very, very strange. Strays don't care about humans, they care about females in heat," Maya said. Authorities "are making a huge error. They're generating a climate of hate against dogs."
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