Over the last forty years violence has become a part of everyday life in the so-called Northern Triangle, composed of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Beyond an average murder rate of a war zone, nowadays people are not just being killed, they are also vanishing. Street gangs such as La Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and other criminal organizations rule over the population by fear: "Ver, oir y callar" (look, listen and shut up) is a motto you see on walls all around these countries, where gangs dictate how people live. Governments’ reaction to the advent of organized crime and violence has been open war, going by a sort of utopian idea of ending violence with violence. In this context the Northern Triangle has witnessed more than decade of systematic use of forced disappearances by criminal groups and law enforcement alike, which has blurred their roles on the field of battle for control. Israel Ticas’ job is to search for those who have disappeared. “The main thing that keeps me doing this is the pain of the families who have lost their loved ones. They are like zombies, their hearts are gone with their sons,” said Mr. Ticas.
The excavation site where the remains of the 20 years old Reina Isabella Sanchez are supposed to be buried. Reina was raped and killed by MS13 gang members for being the girlfriend of a policeman. "She is gone forever, and her mum will never find peace," forensic anthropologist Israel Ticas finally said after two days of searching. El Salvador, Departamento de La Libertad.
Criminologist Israel Ticas works on a clandestine burying site inside a mountain. Ticas has developed a distinct technique for working over crime scenes. He scrutinizes every part of the crime from the abduction to the burial. "Processing all the evidence can be the solution to this kind of violence, to get the right sentence for the criminal, and it also works as a deterrent against further murders," said Mr. Ticas. El Salvador, Departamento De La Libertad.
A latex glove belonging to criminologist Israel Ticas filled with soil from a secret burying site. El Salvador, San Salvador.
Celenia Rivera Ortiz caresses the picture of her son Juan Carlos Rivera, 29, who disappeared in July of 2017. He was a sales adviser for a telecommunication company. Witnesses said that he had entered an MS13-controlled area and never came back. "We are living in a nightmare in this house. At times we hear that someone stops by the door, my daughter thinks that he is here, that he is coming back," said his mother. Honduras, Departamento de Comayagua.
A member of the 18th Street gang plays in Rivera Hernandez, one of the most violent neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ industrial capital. This group is responsible for hundreds of disappearances in the area. Five groups vie for control of the territory. Honduras, San Pedro Sula.
A homemade gun, known as a "trabuco," found in a hidden grave. It fires a single 12 mm bullet, which has a devastating power at close range. El Salvador, San Salvador.
Cledy Lorena Call Cumes, 31. Her husband, Luis Gilberto Tan, disappeared in October 2011. A paramilitary group called "Los Encapuchados de Panajachel" (The Hooded) is suspected of the crime. Guatemala, Atitlan Lake.
Salvadorian Special Forces (FES) conducting an operation in MS13-controlled territory on the outskirts of San Salvador, where a hidden burying site was found. El Salvador, Departamento De San Salvador.
Mara Del Carmen Baron poses outside her house from where, in January of 2016, a team of four men in police uniform kidnapped her 29 year-old daughter, Carmen Maria Baron. After five months of searching, the DIC (Criminal Investigation Division) told her they had closed the case for lack of evidence. "Today I'm scared when I leave home, and I've stopped looking for her. I need to protect my son." Honduras, Tegucigalpa.
Members of the DPI Police Squad looking for evidence in an area used as a hidden burying site by the 18th Street Gang. The bodies of four girls have been found here. Honduras, El Lolo de Comayaguela.
Marvin a 17 year-old boy from El Salvador. He is an MS13 member. Los Zeta, a Mexican cartel, recruited him as a hitman and later tried to kill him. He is now hiding in Guatemala. Guatemala, undisclosed location.
A personal diary of forensic anthropologist and criminologist Israel Ticas. In the course of his career Mr. Ticas has discovered more three hundred hidden graves. Now he lives in mortal danger, because MS13 and 18th Street Gang have threatened to kill him. El Salvador, San Salvador.
Cinthia Lainez, 29, hugs her 13 year-old daughter, Michelle Lainez. Michelle has been kidnapped and disappeared for ten days. She was released in a rural area thanks to the struggle of her mother who had made various public appearances on local media. Michelle had fallen victim to child sex trafficking. Honduras, Juticalpa.
Sildy Gomez Lima, 29, is a Guatemalan activist who is investigating cases of child trafficking cases related to the death of 40 children at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion in Guatemala City. Guatemala, Jalapa.
Clothes that belonged to a man killed by his stepson, an MS-13 member and a protected witness. Maras or Pandillas tend to move remains to different sites to mislead authorities. El Salvador, Departamento De La Libertad.