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September 24, 2017

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Sex abuse at group home house of horror: Mexico

ZAMORA, Mexico -- Mexican prosecutors said Wednesday that victims told harrowing tales of sexual abuse, beatings, hunger and filth in a once well-regarded group home where authorities freed a total of 607 adults and children in a raid.

Some were forced into sex by shelter employees and others told of being locked in a tiny punishment room without food or water. Ten of the victims were so malnourished police couldn't even determine their age.

"Victim No. 4 said she had been held in the group home against her will since she was 18," said Tomas Zeron, federal chief of criminal investigations. "She was sexually abused by one of the administrators, and got pregnant as a result of the abuse. The same person beat her to cause an abortion, beating her in the stomach on several occasions."

Two boys told investigators a male staff member had forced them to engage in oral sex and warned one of the boys that "he would kill him and sell his organs if he refused," Zeron said.

In total, the police raid on Tuesday freed six babies, 154 girls, 278 boys, 50 women and 109 men from the filthy shelter, where Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said inmates lived among 20 tons of garbage.

Nine employees of the shelter in the western state of Michoacan have been detained and are being questioned, but Murillo Karam said some others apparently tried to protect the children.

"There are statements that truly hurt, that make you angry," Murillo Karam said. "But there are others that save your faith in humanity, about those who truly converted themselves into protectors of the children."

Authorities have said that the group home had once been highly regarded and that the government had sometimes given money or even entrusted children to the shelter. While it was subject to government oversight, Murillo Karam said that "the institute's prestige may have made the inspections less intense."

Earlier Wednesday, the mother of a boy held at the group home said that she was allowed to see her child only three times a year and that the home's owner demanded US$2,800 to release him.

Veronica Gamina told The Associated Press by telephone that four years ago she took her then 9-year-old boy to The Great Family group home in the city of Zamora because she had to work and couldn't take care of him.

When she returned to reclaim her now 13-year-old boy, "they told me to write letters explaining why I wanted him back, then they asked me for 37,000 pesos (US$2,800) but I make 800 pesos (US$60) a week and couldn't get the money together," Gamina said. She spoke from outside the home, which was being guarded by police, and where she said about 70 parents had gathered.

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