MEXICO CITY — Manuel Ramirez carries a tattered briefcase with wrinkled court documents and photos of his daughter, now missing for four years. He no longer wants revenge. He just wants to know what happened.
His wife, Adela Alvarado, spends her days praying. She no longer uses mascara because she is frequently on the verge of tears.
To uncover the truth, they have gone to three police agencies, battling apathy and the suspected complicity of some officers. And still they search, despite being driven from their home by death threats.
Their daughter, Monica Alejandrina Ramirez, is among thousands of Mexicans who have simply disappeared as kidnappings multiply.
Once, mostly millionaires were targeted. But like Monica, the daughter of a government doctor, more and more victims are middle- and working-class. Since citizens fear police and most crimes go unsolved, kidnappings have become an increasingly sure bet. Even the poorest people are snatched off the streets now, for ransoms as low as a few hundred dollars.
About 70 abductions are reported monthly, but the government acknowledges that many more are never logged because Mexicans believe police may be incompetent, or even involved in the crime. The nonprofit Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies estimates the number of kidnappings at closer to 500 a month, which would make Mexico a world leader.
The Ramirezes' daughter disappeared after leaving home on Dec. 14, 2004, to turn in a university assignment. She was 19.
Scouring hospitals and posting fliers, her family feared their beloved "Ale" had been killed in an accident or robbery. They doubted anyone would kidnap the daughter of a government doctor with a $3,000 monthly salary.
Then Ramirez got the text message from his daughter's cell phone: "If you ever want to see Ale again, pay us 250,000 pesos," some $25,000 at the time.
Meanwhile, Ramirez had gone to the local state police office, thinking they might help.
"I was desperate. My daughter had not shown up, and they were refusing to take my statement. They sat drinking coffee, bureaucracy, I don't know," Ramirez said.
Ramirez says he never got a straight answer about the investigation. Only years later did he learn that the son of an officer from the same station was involved in her disappearance.
So Ramirez turned to the feds, hoping they would be more professional. Officers spent several weeks at their house, waiting for the kidnappers to call. And Ramirez got two more text messages. The last one read, "Do you have the money, or do you want her back in pieces?"
He left several voice messages saying he was ready to negotiate and begging them not to hurt Monica.
Nobody ever called back. Ramirez now wonders if they knew police were standing by.