Aldo Gutierrez has been in a coma for almost a year, since a bullet perforated his skull on the night of September 26, 2014.
That night, he was among a group of approximately 100 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School who came under attack from police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, in southern Mexico. By the next day, 43 of those students had disappeared.
That number, 43, has since transformed into a potent icon of state violence and impunity in Mexico, and sparked a global movement for justice.
Yet in the past year, little has been said of the six victims who were killed that night, including Julio Cesar Mondragón, the student who was found with his face mutilated. And almost nothing is mentioned about Gutierrez, who remains at an undisclosed hospital in Mexico City.
"[It] is like a dream from which he already wants to wake up from," Aldo's brother Ulises Gutierrez said this week about his sibling's condition. "Sometimes he gives us signs, but he does not wake up."
Aldo was among the first young men who got off the second bus that traveled through Juan N. Alvarez street in Iguala on the night of September 26, just after policemen opened fire on it.
"Aldo got off quickly, he was nervous," Oscar Mendoza, 20, another student who survived the attack, recalled recently. "I did not see him again after that. I ran in the opposite direction so that they would not take me."
According to Mendoza, the sounds of gunfire were everywhere. "We did not know where they came from, but we got off the bus to see what was happening. … I think Aldo never thought this could happen to him."
The Iguala street corner where some of the Ayotzinapa students came under attack. (File photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News)
Aldo's family was notified about the attacks on the morning of September 27. The student, then 19, was first taken to the general hospital in Iguala, where he was kept for a month. After that, after putting him in an induced coma, the hospital's personnel requested permission to take Gutierrez to Mexico City.
Ever since, he has been hospitalized at a facility that his family requested not be identified, but that VICE News visited on Sunday. The family also refused to allow any photographs be taken of the young man, who is now 20.
About 70 percent of Aldo's body is totally paralyzed.
"Even if he woke up, he would not be able to talk, move, or even eat. That takes our hope away," Ulises Gutierrez said. "We've been like this for a year."
'He will return, slow, safe, and patient, like the turtles.'
Before the September 26 attacks against him and his classmates, Aldo Gutierrez graduated from a high school in Tutepec, a small village located in the Guerrero municipality of Ayutla de los Libres.
Leonel Gutierrez, Aldo's father, spoke to me via cell phone from Tutepec a few weeks ago. He has 13 children, including Aldo, and still lives with eight of them.
A campesino, Leonel said he grows "beans, corn, and what I can." He estimated he makes about 3,000 pesos a month to feed his family — a paltry $175 at the current exchange rate. His wife and Aldo's mother declined to be interviewed.
"I have not been able to go [see Aldo], but my other children help me take care of him, since I can't stop working," Leonel said.
A mural at the Ayotzinapa campus depicts Julio Cesar Mondragón, one of the three students killed on September 26, 2014. (Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News)
The father describes Aldo as an "adventurous" young man "who was always exercising or helping his brothers," and who gave his parents no trouble. He rejected the notion — floated in some hypotheses about what happened that night — that the Ayotzinapa students could have had something to do with drug trafficking or any criminal group.
"I'm a farmer. My son helped me. Why would he be doing wrong, as the government says? He left home to get some extra money, because he liked school and he wanted to help," Leonel Gutierrez told VICE News.
The family has received government economic support for Aldo's hospitalization, but that money does not cover their traveling expenses to Mexico City, which is about 250 miles from Ayutla and hours away by bus.
"We travel on whatever we can, basically we've been working only to come here and take care of him," Ulises Gutierrez said at the hospital. "We have a notebook where we write everything we need to know about his condition."
The names of Ayutla and Ayotzinapa come from the Nahuatl root "ayot," meaning turtle. The turtle is the teacher training school's official symbol.
"Aldo always felt connected with that animal, maybe that's why he's waiting," Ulises told me. "He will return, slow, safe, and patient, like the turtles."