The Fifth Bus

The question “why” haunts us. Why did they do it? Why did they attack college students? Why did they decide to forcibly disappear 43 students? From the very first hours after the attacks, the Mexican government tried to make it impossible to answer that question. Since 2014, however, numerous independent investigations have chipped away at the official silence. 

In 2015, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) posed the hypothesis that the students had unknowingly confiscated a passenger bus containing secret compartments loaded with heroin bound for Chicago. The GIEI based this hypothesis on several facts:

  • Federal police stopped one Estrella Roja bus, drew their weapons, and threatened the Ayotzinapa students who got off the bus and fled.

  • The federal police then escorted that bus around the other police roadblocks and sent it on to Cuautla, Morelos, where the bus driver wrote and signed a declaration of what had happened. 

  • The Estrella Roja bus was the only bus not fired upon and was allowed to leave the city that night. 

  • Federal authorities later denied the existence of that bus, then lied about its route, lied about the driver’s testimony, and finally tried to present a different bus to the GIEI. 

  • The GIEI also discovered US court testimonies describing the use of passenger buses in Guerrero to move heroin to the border en route to Chicago, and then bring cash back, all in secret compartments. The GIEI repeatedly asked the Mexican government to request information from the United States about those drug trafficking operations. 

In April 2018, the Mexican government leaked US Drug Enforcement Administration wiretap records to the press. The government claimed that the DEA intercepted messages on the night of September 26-27, 2014, between drug traffickers in Chicago and Iguala, and that these intercepted messages proved that the army was not involved in the attacks. What the messages did in fact show was the level of coordination between drug traffickers in Guerrero and Illinois. The GIEI’s “fifth bus” hypothesis could be true. 

In 2022, former DEA special agent Mark Giuffre told Kate Doyle and Anayansi Diaz-Cortes of Reveal: “These students hijacked the wrong bus. They hijacked the wrong bus. To me, it was just so crystal clear that if not for that being the bus they hijacked, my hypothesis is they might all very well be alive today.”