A body has been found in the search for Facundo Astudillo Castro, the missing 22-year-old last seen at the end of April being detained at a police checkpoint in Buenos Aires Province.
The corpse, which has not yet been identified, was found on Saturday night by federal police officers at a narrow waterway between the towns of General Daniel Cerri and Villarino, around 10 kilometres from Bahía Blanca off National Route 3.
Unconfirmed reports said a fisherman had initially discovered the body, which is missing parts and is from a male, relatives said.
As news broke of the discovery, questions were immediately asked about its location – local television reports said that the region had been previously searched by federal police officers and that it was close to where the last signal from the missing youth’s phone was detected by antennas.
Judicial sources said at least four investigators from the prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), which began working on the case earlier this month, have been called to the scene to begin work on identifying the body.
According to police sources quoted by Perfil, the remains are “skeletal” and would appear to be "at least 90 days old." It was found unclothed and at least one source said it was impossible to tell with the naked eye whether “it is Facundo.”
Castro went missing on April 30 in the Villarino partido, 107 days ago, 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.
Cristina Castro, Facundo’s mother, in particular has been exceptionally critical of the authorities and their handling of the case, especially Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni, accusing him of leaking incorrect information to the press.
EAAF investigators were summoned by federal prosecutor Santiago Ulpiano Martínez to the crime scene on Sunday morning, arriving at around 10am and immediately deploying protocol to ensure the area was not contaminated.
A few hours later, the missing man’s mother spoke to local news channels close to the scene, saying she was ready to help identify the body if necessary. She did not confirm reports that she had recognised a shoe as belonging to her son.
“I am as I can be. I say it could be Facundo, I would not be surprised. The water has brought him here. We are waiting for the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to arrive and we will see if it is him," Cristiana Castro told Radio Rivadavia.
In comments later reported by La Nación, she said there were “possibilities” that the body was her son’s, saying she based her reasoning on “mothering instinct.” She hinted that she believed the body had been planted there and called for the resignation of Berni and the mayor of Villarino.
Dr. Leandro Aparicio, another lawyer for the family, also suggested that the body may have been “planted” there by Castro’s killers. “If it is Facundo's [body], it did not get there voluntarily,” he added.
It is unclear how long it will take investigators to identify the corpse, with tests on bones and matter likely to take place in Buenos Aires, especially given the deterioration of the body. An autopsy will take place in the capital as soon as possible, officials said.
Luciano Peretto, a lawyer representing Cristina Castro, said that investigators had found "a complete skeleton in an absolutely dissected state," adding that "there is not much more information."
Castro’s disappearance did not initially receive much press coverage, but in recent weeks, pressure on investigators, police and officials has increased.
Last month, the United Nations called on the Argentine government to complete an “immediate and exhaustive” investigation into Castro’s disappearance, issuing a statement via its Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) that said “all possible hypotheses” should be taken into account.
Speaking to CNN Radio on Sunday, provincial Governor Axel Kicillof promised there would be no cover up, vowing to act accordingly should investigators prove foul play.