ECATEPEC, Mexico -- A memorial caravan wound its way through Ecatepec's streets Sunday carrying white roses in remembrance of a 2-year-old girl who was beaten to death and left on a sidewalk in the Mexico City suburb, one of many killed in a very dangerous country to be female.
The National Citizen's Observatory of Feminicide says an average of 10 women are murdered every day in Mexico, often after a sexual assault. That makes Mexico one of the most violent countries for females. And Ecatepec, a humble working class community of 1.7 million residents, has seen more such killings in recent years than any other municipality in Mexico.
"The women of the 'periphery,' we are the forgotten. We only enter the statistics," said Magda Soberones, 28, a mother of three and one of the founders of a performance troupe that led the procession in Ecatepec, which is part of "the periphery" — the band of suburbs that sprawl out from the core of Mexico City to form one of the most extensive urban areas in the world, home to 22 million people.
Soberones' group calls itself Women of the Periphery for the Periphery and does performance art to call attention to violence against women.
People gathered for the caravan's first stop at the site where little Samantha was abandoned in a blanket, beaten to death in June.
Neighbors recalled hearing shouts in the wee hours of Mexico's Father's Day. One woman said she looked out the window and saw a young woman put a bundle on the sidewalk that turned out to be Samantha's body. The neighbor, fighting back tears and holding a small child of her own, didn't want to give her name to The Associated Press.
"She never returned to hug her," the neighbor said of the young mom. "I would have never let her go."
Residents called police and waited an agonizing hour for a patrol car to arrive. Officers took statements, but have not returned. Samantha's mother accused a boyfriend of hitting the child. Neighbors said they haven't seen the couple since.
"Justice for Samantha!" the activists shouted Sunday before placing a needlepoint image of a little girl and Samantha's name next to a mosaic depicting Jesus on the cross.
The procession then headed to a field of white and yellow wildflowers where the bodies of a mother and her teenage daughter were found after an evening of dancing. Both had been raped.
As the activists moved down a narrow street they called out to residents to be more vigilant.
"Sir, ma'am, don't be indifferent. Women are killed right in front of people's eyes," they chanted.
Members of the performance troupe donned long purple skirts and roses crowned their heads. The sound of wind howled on a speaker as the women lifted their heavy skirts to traipse over the tall grass of the field where the half-naked bodies of the mother and daughter were found.
The performers took turns saying first the name of the mother —"I'm Angélica"— and then the name of the daughter —"I'm Karla"— while twirling skirts in the air like giant butterfly wings.
Relatives of the murdered women sobbed, and the troupe's members embraced them, crying together.
Karla's older sister, Angélica Estevez, said the 16-year-old was a homebody who liked to study and didn't have a boyfriend. The night she was killed was the first time the teenager had gone out to dance, she said. Their mother sold bread at a market and was an avid salsa dancer.
"They didn't deserve to die that way — either of them," said Estevez.
Two men who have been accused of murdering the women face a hearing in mid-October.
Relatives of other women who have been slain on the outskirts of the capital stepped forward in the field to share their stories, with a common thread of violent deaths, impunity for perpetrators and practically nonexistent investigations by authorities.
Lilia Florencio, whose daughter Diana was found raped and strangled a block from home in 2017, described the performance art as a way to "visualize what is happening in this Mexico that is so hurt."
She said the only thing she has gotten from police was a poster a year ago promising a reward for information to solve the crime.
"Us, the mothers, the families, we will continue to demand justice," Florencio vowed.
The caravan's next stop was a memorial to one of Mexico's most shocking and painful crime sprees: the butchering of more than a dozen women by a single couple. Juan Carlos Hernández and Patricia Martínez, who were arrested last year, admitted to killing at least 20 young women in Ecatepec. They chopped them up, ate body parts and sold bones to religious cults.
The performance artists held red scarves above lighted votive candles. They handed red carnations to the crowd, and then draped a chain of paper dolls with question marks scrawled on the dolls' skirts across the memorial to the couple's victims, most of whom have not been identified.
"If we don't organize, this could be one of us," activist Lizeth Flores warned the crowd.