MEXICO CITY - Gunmen attacked a public transport van in southern Mexico and killed three people, including two students from the teachers college that had 43 students disappear in the hands of police two years ago, authorities said Wednesday.
Roberto Alvarez Heredia, spokesman of the Guerrero Coordination Group, said that the attack occurred Tuesday evening outside the state capital Chilpancingo on a van headed to Tixtla where the Rural Normal School at Ayotzinapa is located.
Alvarez said the motive was theft, but said they were shot while handing over their wallets. Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo condemned the killings Wednesday.
There was no apparent connection to the disappearance of the 43 classmates, who prosecutors say were intercepted by local police in Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014, and turned over to members of a drug cartel. They have not been heard from since, and failure to solve the case has become a continuing major scandal for Mexico's government.
Less than an hour after the students were shot, gunmen in Chilpancingo killed another minibus driver who refused to stop for them.
Also Tuesday, authorities in the neighbouring state of Michoacan found four men slain on a roadside whom they identified as members of Catholic evangelism group.
The Michoacan state prosecutor's office said in a statement that family members identified the four men and said they were last seen Saturday, but had not been reported missing. It said one was wearing a tactical vest.
Former La Ruana parish priest Jose Luis Segura Barragan began posting on his Facebook page about the men's disappearances on Sunday. He wrote that they belonged to a group called the Rainbow that proselytized in communities. They were all in their 20s.
They were last seen outside the church Saturday around 10:30 p.m. Segura did not immediately respond to messages, but the Apatzingan Diocese confirmed that the Facebook page belonged to Segura.
Their bodies were found Tuesday in San Juan de los Platanos, about 10 miles (15 kilometres) west of Apatzingan.
Segura blamed organized crime for the murders.
"This tragedy touches my heart deeply, because I spent time with them for three years, and I accompanied them in their evangelism retreats and their missions to small hamlets," Segura wrote Tuesday.
In a subsequent post, Segura called on society to stand up against the violence.
"I believe that it's time that we take seriously organized crime and the government, useless or complicit," Segura wrote. "We cannot put up with any more murders, executions, abductions, kidnappings, extortions and the other cruel and destructive actions that the criminals commit against society and the Catholic Church."
Michoacan has suffered for years under competing drug cartels. So-called self-defence forces rose up to confront them in the absence of government control, though some of those same groups were infiltrated by the cartels.
Last month a Catholic priest was killed in Michoacan. On Monday, the state prosecutor's office said Rev. Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen was killed by two men who visited him at his residence.