The eight unknowns about the ‘Debanhi case’ that the Prosecutor’s Office must clear

The case of the 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar, who was missing for 13 days until the authorities found her body at the bottom of a motel cistern, remains a mystery 20 days after her death and a week after the discovery of the body.

The Prosecutor’s Office, cornered by public opinion and media pressure, has recognized serious errors in the investigation that led to the dismissal of two prosecutors involved in the case. Television has contributed to the macabre spectacle of her last hours alive. And the new advances in the investigation have not managed to clear up the great unknowns surrounding her death on April 9.

The Debanhi case has become a symbol of the tortuous path of victims of disappearances and femicides to achieve justice in Mexico.

In primetime, there has been an attempt to blame Debanhi for ending up submerged in a cistern. Her interviews with two friends and the driver who abandoned her on the road that night simply provided a headline: “she was drunk”, “she was not in her five senses”.

In another piece of information, it was suggested that the victim could have consumed some drug. And a local media even elaborated a survey of its readers: “Do you think that Debanhi Escobar’s death was due to… Homicide, accident, you don’t know.”

These details, which do not provide any relevant data on how the young woman could have died, have diverted attention from what is important: the questions that must be answered and the Prosecutor’s Office has not answered.

What happened at Quinta El Diamante

Debanhi went to a party on the night of April 8 with two girls, one of them a friend of hers and the other an acquaintance, Ivonne and Saraí —the surnames have not been disclosed—. After going to at least three places, they end up at Quinta El Diamante. They were with some boys they had met before at the entrance of another party, and three more boys that she greeted upon arrival, according to the testimony of the friends in the interview for Televisa Monterrey. They stayed there until approximately 3:50 in the morning.

At the door, when they were leaving, “some people wanted to take Debanhi”, say the friends. They said they wanted to take her to her house, but they didn’t trust her. At 4 in the morning, they put Debanhi in the car of David Cuéllar – a Didi driver who had given his number to the girls that night and offered them several rides. The friends went home in another vehicle because Debanhi did not want them to accompany her, she “wanted to be left alone.” There is no more information, apart from what the friends have given, about what happened and who else could have approached Debanhi that night.

The harassment or not of the taxi driver

Debanhi got into David Cuéllar’s car in the passenger seat, according to security cameras that the vehicle captures a few meters away. Debanhi’s father, Mario Escobar, was the first to accuse Cuéllar of harassing his daughter and that was, according to him, the reason why the young woman got out of the vehicle a few minutes later and was left alone on the road that leads to Nuevo Laredo. Escobar mentioned some images to which he had had access that corroborated this.

The driver denied the alleged harassment in another interview and pointed out that she got out “of her own free will.” It was at that moment that Cuéllar took a photo of her that has become a symbol of her cause. She was alone, with her skirt down to her ankles, her Converse, her black mask, in the middle of nowhere. The authorities have recognized Cuéllar’s collaboration in the investigation and have ruled out any crime.

What happened in the transport company

In the videos that the Prosecutor’s Office released this Wednesday, the young woman is observed walking along the road towards the first open place she found on her way: a transport company, Alcosa. There, a security camera of the establishment captures how at 4:29 a.m. she crosses the road and looks at the surveillance post. Despite the fact that the Prosecutor’s Office had initially indicated that the young woman had entered the company, in this second installment of the progress of the investigation they indicate that from that moment there are no more records of her inside it.

Why did she run when she entered the Nueva Castilla motel

Five minutes later and on the same sidewalk, a camera from the Nueva Castilla motel captures Debanhi running as she entered the compound. It was 4:35 in the morning. The place, which is a complex of several buildings, has a restaurant on the right side of the entrance, a circular structure that was abandoned, which opens onto a garden area with a swimming pool and where the cistern was located nearby. It is striking that the young woman runs through the main access without any camera capturing anyone but her: was she fleeing from something or someone? Was she trying to hide from her? The authorities have not responded to this question.

It is important to mention that the Prosecutor’s Office initially indicated that the establishment did not have records of its security cameras. And this week they have shown for the first time that it was not true. It is also strange that the only security cameras that have registered the image of Debanhi that night belong to the abandoned restaurant. There is no trace of the images of the cameras of the motel reception, which was operating on a regular basis, nor of other spaces in the enclosure. The head of the Femicide Prosecutor’s Office, Griselda Núñez, mentioned in an interview with Milenio that they have “located new cameras that could have a record.” But they have not provided more information about it.

Why is she in the abandoned restaurant

The same restaurant security camera shows how Debanhi at 4:36 a.m. looks out at the abandoned restaurant. It has not been explained whether or not she went to the motel reception afterward. Only that same camera captures her from afar until 4:56 a.m. near that disused area. Between the restaurant façade and the pool (where the cistern is located), there is a wall. The authorities have not explained how she crossed to the garden area without going through the premises. Nor have they cleared up the mystery of what she was looking for in that abandoned corner. And less, if she at some point was in another place in the motel that is key to clarifying her death.

How is it possible that they did not find the body after four searches

Debanhi’s body was found on April 21 in the motel’s cistern after the premises had been searched by authorities on at least four occasions. And there it was always, a few meters from the last point where the young woman had been seen alive and from where the raids of the search groups were organized for 13 days. The only response from the Prosecutor’s Office to this question is that they are investigating the omissions of the officials and will hold those involved in this type of negligence responsible. The first two, the head of Anti-Kidnapping and the Head of Missing Persons, have already been dismissed.

They have not explained either how it is possible that the workers of the place did not realize until more than a week after the corpse. Nor that there wasn’t a single witness that night, not even on surveillance —which is 24 hours in this facility— who saw the young woman or someone else.

Why did they lie about the motel security cameras

One of the big unresolved questions is the role of the motel in the Debanhi case. If they hid information about the camera records from the beginning or it was the Prosecutor’s Office who did not demand and secure the recordings. There is no information about the rest of the cameras, if the records could be deleted or some videos were edited in the time between the young woman’s death and her finding. There are also no detainees for the possible crime of obstruction of justice.

How did she get to the bottom of the cistern

The hypotheses around this point have been the most controversial these days. At first, the Prosecutor’s Office suggested that the young woman had fallen into the cistern alone, without explaining if this water tank was even open – there are aerial images prior to Debanhi’s death that show a lid. This theory of the accident provoked a flurry of criticism, including that of the family itself. Shortly after, they explained that the cause of her death was a “deep contusion in the skull”.

What they have not specified and that is key is whether this blow occurred before or after falling or being thrown into the cistern. Nor if someone else caused it or if it was a blow when falling. There is hardly any autopsy data and they have not mentioned whether or not sexual abuse was detected, which would lead the investigation directly to femicide.

Consulted by El Pais, a forensic doctor with decades of experience, explains that sexual abuse injuries do not disappear in the body, even if it has been submerged for more than 10 days. According to forensic medicine, the regeneration of tissues after death is impossible and, therefore, they can be analyzed.

Written by Helen Queen, originally published on El Pais

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