Everything we know about the murder of Debanhi Escobar, 18-year-old dumped in Mexico cistern

The last known photo of the 18-year-old posted on her Instagram account  (Instagram)
The last known photo of the 18-year-old posted on her Instagram account (Instagram)

A few weeks before disappearing, 18-year-old Debanhi Susana Escobar joined thousands of women demonstrating against gender violence in Mexico.

The law student at the University of Nuevo Leon, in Monterrey, went to the feminist march "because she always wanted to help people", her father, Mario Escobar, recalled to media.

Mr Escobar paced his trust in authorities to find his daughter after her disappearance on 9 April. A massive search was launched for the diminutive teenager described as having a white complexion and a slim build, weighing about 105 pounds and standing at 5ft 5 inches tall.

The effort gained international attention when a haunting photo went viral showing the young girl abandoned on the side of a highway.

By the time she was found almost two weeks later, her body had decomposed so badly she could only be identified by the crucifix around her neck, and her family is outraged by the prosecutors’ failure.

This is everything currently known about the disappearance, death and discovery of Ms Escobar.

The Nueva Castilla ‘house party’

Ms Escobar and friends - identified in media as Ivonne, Alejandra and Jessari - went to a house party in the neighbourhood of Nueva Castilla, in the north of Monterrey on Friday, 8 April.

The city is in the Nuevo León region, near Mexico’s northwest border with Texas.

Ms Escobar is said to have gotten into an argument with one of those friends. They left without Ms Escobar, but called a "trusted contact" to pick her up from the party and give her a ride home.

The cause of the argument is unknown.

mujer mexicana asesinada (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
mujer mexicana asesinada (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Either later that night, or in the early hours of the next day, 9 April, Ms Escobar left the party alone with the taxi driver her friends called earlier, who was known as "Jesús".

For unknown reasons, she exited the vehicle and was left alone on the highway that connects Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo, further north.

Her father told CBS News that nearby security camera footage, according to prosecutors, "suggested the driver inappropriately touched his daughter.”

“I suppose that my daughter did not put up with the harassment,” the father said, according to CBS.

At 5am on Saturday morning, the driver sent the now-viral photo of Ms Escobar standing alone by the side of the road.

‘SI ES REAL’: Instagram photo goes viral

"Yes, it’s real", said the caption on the viral photo that catapulted Ms Escobar to international attention.

The photo was said to be taken by the taxi driver who was called to pick up Ms Escobar from the house party.

"The photograph was taken by the ‘contact’ shortly before the abandonment and sent to Debanhi’s friends," the caption said.

"She was wearing a white top, loose black high pants, black converse and loose hair.”

The photo is believed to be taken on Highway 85, the road at the centre of the three locations central to Ms Escobar’s disappearance and discovery: The Nueva Castilla house party, the transport company where she was last seen alive, and the roadside hotel where her body was discovered.

What is unclear is what time the photo was taken, what time it was sent to friends, and what happened in that gap.

Alcosa Transportes Internacionales

At about 5am, security cameras from a hotel on the Monterrey-Laredo highway filmed a young woman exit a taxi.

After getting out of the taxi, she was last seen entering the site of the trucking company Alcosa Transportes Internacionales.

Her father said she went there asking for help, but was never seen leaving the cargo company. He added that some security camera footage from the company had disappeared.

In a statement on its website dated 18 April, before the discovery of her body, the company’s legal representative Javier Hernandez Morales said they were cooperating fully with the search and investigation.

"Alcosa has provided the authorities with the surveillance videos it has, lists of personnel (who have already been interviewed by the authorities) and all the information and support it has required," the statement said.

"The only relationship of our company with the unfortunate case is its physical location, because it is very close to the last place where the missing young woman was seen."

‘Trusted contact’ Jesús

On Tuesday, April 12, the 47-year-old taxi driver known as Jesús, but identified as Juan David Cuéllar, was arrested on unrelated drug charges.

While he worked for a ride-sharing service "Like Uber or DiDi", the app was turned off after he was called by a mutual friend to pick up Ms Escobar from the Nueva Castilla house party.

He was questioned about Ms Escobar but has not been charged in her disappearance or death. He has since been released.

He has previously been investigated for harassment and attempted kidnapping of women, according to The Daily Mail.

Motel Nueva Castilla

Authorities mobilized 200 personnel using drones and search dogs but were unable to find any trace of the missing teenager during the 13-day search.

Mexico Woman Killed (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Mexico Woman Killed (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

On the evening of Thursday, April 22, her body was found in the underground water tank of the Motel Nueva Castilla, a short 1 minute walk a block and a half south of Alcosa, where she was last seen alive.

The property had been searched at least four times but her body was not discovered until the odour of her decomposing body alerted staff to the cistern - prompting a fifth search of the location

She had been submerged in water for nearly two weeks, leaving her body unrecognizable. She was identified by a crucifix necklace and clothing while awaiting DNA confirmation, according to the Associated Press.

“The alert was sounded by hotel workers, because of the fetid odours coming from the cistern,” Assistant Public Safety Secretary Ricardo Mejia told AP.

Nuevo León prosecutor Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero told the Mexican newspaper Milenio that the hotel’s security cameras did not record footage and were only for monitoring purposes.

Bludgeoned to death or accidental drowning?

Ms Escobar’s presumed cause of death is a deep contusion to the skull, according to Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero, state prosecutor of Nuevo León. Her father added that she had been "beaten and strangled".

The Attorney General’s Office, meanwhile, had put forward a theory that Ms Escobar accidentally fell into the 12-foot water tank near the motel pool, and drowned.

Her family has called the idea a "lie".

Mexico Woman Killed (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Mexico Woman Killed (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

"I publicly accuse Juan David Cuéllar for all this,” her father told media, adding that the taxi driver put her in a position of danger.

The grieving family had plenty of blame to go around. Standing outside the Motel Nueva Castilla on Friday, Mr Escobar and his wife Dolores Bazaldúa demanded justice for their daughter.

He accused the Nuevo León prosecutor of planting his daughter’s body in the cistern, according to the Spanish-language newspaper El Universal.

"For believing in the prosecutor’s office, I apologize to my family, it was many days and the prosecutor’s office did not do its job correctly," he said.

"My daughter is dead and I don’t know what to do, I’m upset because I was wrong, I believed in the prosecutor’s office," he added.