Marian Carrasquero—The New York Times/Redux

Mexican activist María Herrera Magdaleno, 73, helps lead a thousands-strong movement that no one wants to join. Four of her eight children—Jesús Salvador, Raúl, Luis Armando, and Gustavo—have been missing for over a decade. They are among the more than 111,000 people currently missing in Mexico amid endemic violence sown by drug cartels. When Herrera’s appeal for help from the Mexican justice system bore little fruit—a common experience in a country where police lack the resources to deal with their massive caseload and are known to collude with organized-crime groups—she joined a movement of families taking the search into their own hands. Known affectionately as Doña Mary, she helped found in 2014 a national network of local collectives that teach people how to investigate a loved one’s disappearance. In May 2022 she met with Pope Francis, and in November she sued the Mexican state in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for its failure to investigate her sons’ disappearances. Human-rights advocates say such efforts are piling pressure on Mexico’s leaders to respond to the crisis.

Nugent is a TIME staff writer

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