The investigation into a missing toddler has led to a distressing revelation.
After a two-year-old boy went missing in a colonial Mexican city popular with tourists, prosecutors have now released evidence an adult apparently used other children to help kidnap him.
The search for Dylan Esaú Gómez Pérez, 2, led prosecutors on the Guatemalan border in regional Mexico to a house this week where 23 abducted children were being kept in deplorable conditions and forced to sell trinkets and handicrafts in the street.
But Dylan, who turns 3 in November, was not among them. He went missing on June 30.
Reviewing surveillance cameras, state prosecutor Jorge Llaven said that a boy and a girl, both apparently around 12, were seen talking to a woman who is a suspect in the June 30 abduction.
Mr Llaven identified the woman as only as “Ofelia”, and offered a A$19,000 reward for information about the location of her or the missing boy.
In photos from cameras, the boy and the girl enter the public market where Dylan’s mother worked in the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas.
Dylan appears to follow the boy, and then the girl takes Dylan by the back of the jacket and walks out of the market with him. The girl is later seen returning alone, apparently having handed the missing boy over to someone else.
Mr Llaven said Tuesday that a search carried out Monday (local time), apparently related to Dylan’s disappearance, had revealed a house where children — most between two and 15-years-old, but three infants aged between three and 20 months — were forced to sell things on the street.
“Moreover, they were forced to return with a certain minimum amount of money for the right to get food and a place to sleep at the house,” Mr Llaven said.
San Cristobal is a picturesque, heavily Indigenous city that is popular among tourists. It is not unusual to see children and adults hawking local crafts like carvings and embroidered cloth on its narrow cobblestone streets.
But few visitors to the city suspected that some of the kids doing the selling had been snatched from their families.
The Chiapas state prosecutors’ office said in a statement the children “were forced through physical and psychological violence to sell handicrafts in the centre of the city”, adding the kids showed signs of “malnutrition and precarious conditions”.
According to video presented by the prosecutors, many of them slept on what appeared to be sheets of cardboard and blankets on a cement floor. Three other women have been detained in that case and may face human trafficking and forced labour charges.
Dylan was with his mother, Juana Pérez, at the market on the day he was snatched.
Ms Pérez, who travelled to Mexico City to ask President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to help find her son, works at the market selling fruit and vegetables.
She said her son would sometimes wander off to play, but that no children had ever been snatched from the market before.
The boy’s father emigrated to California to find work, and thus Ms Pérez, 23, has had to care for Dylan and his sister by herself.
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