El Salvador officials said on Thursday they were excavating graves discovered at the house of a former police officer that contained as many as 40 bodies, most of them believed to be women.
Exhuming all the bodies could take another month, authorities said. The remains of at least 24 people have been recovered so far at the house in the municipality of Chalchuapa, about 48 miles (78 km) northwest of the capital, San Salvador.
At least 10 people are facing charges, according to the office of the attorney general, including a former police officer, Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chavez, whose home is on the same site as the graves.
Neither Osorio nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment.
Dozens of people who believed their missing relatives could be among the bodies gathered outside the house on Thursday, as forensic workers dressed in white suits removed skeletons from the ground.
“There’s the hope of recognizing a family member, even among the corpses,” said Marleny Barrientos, 50, who carried a photograph of her son, who disappeared in 2015. “That is why I’m here.”
The discovery of the mass grave has brought the issue of femicides into focus in the Central American country of 6.7 million, which recorded 70 killings of women last year. There were 111 in 2019, police data showed.
So far, authorities have prosecuted nine cases of aggravated femicide and another five cases of aggravated homicides in connection with the case.
“The central axis of the investigation is sexual violence,” prosecutor Graciela Sagastume told the press earlier this week.
Violence against women in Latin America worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, according to aid groups.
Separately, in Mexico, a 72-year-old man was arrested this week as a suspected serial killer of women, local media reported. The remains of several people were found at his home in the State of Mexico during an investigation into the death of a 36-year-old woman.
(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Grant McCool and Gerry Doyle)