Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni said Thursday it was “probable” that the unidentified skeletal remains of a body found last week belong to the missing 22-year-old Facundo Astudillo Castro, who was last seen on April 30.
Berni, who has faced criticism from the missing man’s family over public statements regarding the case, said that officials and experts believed that the remains of a corpse discovered close to Villarino were from Castro’s body.
"I think that at this point there are no more doubts. It is known that [Facundo] reached the tracks [near where the body was found], and there is full certainty," the outspoken minister told the AM 550 radio station. “This is how the evidence appears in the file, with objective and subjective evidence.”
An autopsy on the “incomplete” remains, found close to Villarino last week, began on Tuesday at 9.30am, led by investigators from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). Members of the Castro’s family, their lawyers and their appointed independent coroner were also present, with 15 specialists involved in total.
The missing man’s mother, Cristina Castro, said on Wednesday that she believes the remains are that of her son’s, telling TN “I’m sure it’s him.”
She also claimed that she had been informed by experts involved in the autopsy that the remains were from an individual aged between 22 and 24 and that a suicide hypothesis had been ruled out, with investigators concluding that the person had been suffocated.
Bahía Blanca Federal Judge Gabriela Marrón denied those claims, releasing a statement saying that "neither the Court nor any of the official experts who participated in the examination of the skeletal remains found on 15 and 21 of the current month and year gave information to the young man's mother about deliberations."
Marrón said that identifying the remains will take around 15 days, with final conclusions – including the date and cause of death – available in less than 40 days.
Castro went missing on April 30 in the Villarino partido of Buenos Aires Province, after being stopped by police for breaking the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He had departed from his home in Pedro Luro and was reportedly on his way to Bahía Blanca to see his former partner, though he never arrived at his destination.
The missing man’s family and their lawyers have repeatedly alleged that provincial police officers were involved in his disappearance. Many relatives seem convinced that foul play was involved.
During his interview on Thursday, Berni referenced the criticism he has faced, in particular from Cristina Castro.
"I would never cover up a criminal and I would never accuse an innocent person [of a crime]," said Berni.
"I am a human being and a public official. I have the vocation to understand a mother who has lost a child and the obligation to be tolerant of unfounded grievances," he added.
The missing man’s mother, however, shows no sign of backing down. During a meeting on Thursday with Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, Cristina Castro again asked for Berni to be fired or resign his post. That meeting came three days after she met President Alberto Fernández at the Olivos presidential residence.
Castro has not spoken too much about what the president told her, other than delivering a promise that the truth would come to light and that there would be no cover-up. She did reveal in an interview with the TN news channel, however, that Fernández had gifted her a dog, a nephew of his own hound, Dylan.
She said the Peronist leader had learnt that her dog had tragically died while she was out searching for Facundo.
“I trust dogs more than people,” she told TN.