Gildardo López Astudillo, AKA El Gil, remains a central figure in the Ayotzinapa students’ 2014 disappearance

El Gil's intercepted conversations shed light on the Ayotzinapa students' fate, raising questions about his evolving role and testimonies.

Gildardo López Astudillo, commonly known as “El Gil,” has long remained a central and controversial figure in the perplexing case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who went missing in 2014. As families desperately seek answers and justice, they found themselves on September 25 confronting federal authorities for updates on the investigation. Yet, their hopes for clarity were muddled further, especially when “El Gil’s” involvement and testimonies took center stage.

A particularly jarring moment for the bereaved was the response from Luis Cresencio Sandoval, the head of the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena). General Sandoval allegedly stated that all relevant information had been provided when asked to provide all pertinent documents to help shed light on the mystery. He directed families wanting to access intercepted communications from the night of the incident to contact Gildardo López Astudillo, known as “El Gil.” Notably, “El Gil” is identified as one of the key figures of the Guerreros Unidos gang.

Elusive conversations from a tumultuous night

Reports indicate that on the night of the students’ disappearance, Sedena intercepted a conversation between “El Gil” and an Iguala Police chief. The discussion reportedly touched upon the fate of 17 of the missing students. Though presumably acquired through military surveillance, Sandoval advised the families to approach “El Gil” for communications directly.

"El Gil" was arrested in September 2015. (PGR)
“El Gil” was arrested in September 2015. (PGR)

“El Gil,” from crime lord to state witness

Gildardo López Astudillo’s notorious reputation as a prominent figure within Guerreros Unidos made headlines when he was apprehended on September 16, 2015, in Taxco de Alarcón, Guerrero. Accused of orchestrating the abduction and murder of the students, “El Gil” faced charges related to kidnapping and organized crime.

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Murillo Karam’s narrative presented López Astudillo as the intermediary between José Luis Abarca, the former municipal president of Iguala, and the Guerreros Unidos gang. While initially incarcerated in the Federal Center for Social Readaptation No.1 El Altiplano, by 2019, “El Gil” was acquitted of all charges.

López Astudillo now collaborates as a witness with the FGR. (PGR /CUARTOSCURO)
López Astudillo now collaborates as a witness with the FGR. (PGR /CUARTOSCURO)

The turning point came when a significant portion of the evidence against him, 81 pieces to be exact, was dismissed on the grounds that they were procured through torture. Following his release in August 2019, “El Gil” transitioned from an accused criminal to a protected witness for the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) in 2020. In a bid to learn the truth, the FGR offered him protection in return for his testimony.

Yet, the credibility of “El Gil” remains questionable. The case under prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero hinges on arrest warrants against military personnel that predominantly cite “El Gil’s” testimonies—statements riddled with inconsistencies.