Haydee Posadas had waited eight years for her son to come home. On the last night of her long vigil, she was too agitated to sleep.
Her son had fled Honduras for the U.S. in 2010 in part because of gang threats, just as thousands are doing today in the migrant caravans headed north, including men from the same neighborhood. But en route in Mexico, again like so many others, Wilmer Gerardo Nunez disappeared into the vortex of drug violence that he was trying to escape in the first place. Left in limbo, his anguished mother prayed for an answer.
"I am between a rock and a hard place," she begged God through the years. "I know nothing about my son, whether he's dead or alive."
Nunez's story is part of the hidden toll of migration to the U.S. through Mexico: In the past four years alone, almost 4,000 migrants have died or gone missing along that route, The Associated Press has found in an exclusive tally. That's 1,573 more than the previously known number, calculated by the United Nations. And even the AP's number is likely low — bodies may be lost in the desert, and families may not report missing loved ones who were migrating illegally.
These Latin American migrants are among about 56,800 worldwide who died or disappeared over the same period, the AP found.
While migrants everywhere face risks, the Mexico route holds the added danger of drug trafficking and gang violence. More than 37,000 people have gone missing throughout Mexico because of this violence, with the highest number in the border state of Tamaulipas, through which many migrants cross. The sheer numbers of the disappeared, along with crushing bureaucracy and the fear of gangs, makes it difficult for families to track what happened to their loved ones — as Posadas found out.
In September 2013, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and other groups reached an agreement with Mexican prosecutors to identify more than 200 bodies from three massacres, including the one at San Fernando. All the bodies in the common grave were exhumed for new autopsies. In March 2015, Mexico's Attorney General's Office sent a letter to the Honduran Supreme Court asking for help locating the relatives of two men.