SAN SALVADOR – The death toll quickly rose to 21 in a Jan. 6 uprising started by gang members at the Apanteos prison in western El Salvador, 70 kilometers from the capital, according to prison officials.
Alberto Uribe, the communications chief for the bureau of prisons, said the final casualty figures were compiled after the riot had been controlled and the prison inspected. He said the coroner’s office had identified 16 of the dead, but the identities of the remaining bodies could not be determined because of the extensive damage to the inmates’ heads and faces.
Uribe said about 100 inmates were transferred to another prison in the city of Santa Ana for security reasons. He added that several blocks of the Apanteos facility were destroyed by the gang members.
The bureau of prisons on Jan. 6 declared a state of emergency lasting at least two weeks at the Apanteos prison, Uribe said, adding that inmates would be locked down and would not be able to receive visitors during that period.
The prison uprising started when groups of inmates began knocking down or making holes – apparently using parts of broken beds – in some of the walls of the penitentiary, according to reports.
“It is one of the ugliest massacres that has occurred in recent times; it’s a monstrosity,” said El Salvador’s human-rights ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo.
She said that in a brief tour of the inside of the prison she saw “within the cells feet, heads covered with mats …We don’t know if they are the same (inmates) who were sleeping there or if they brought them to those cells to execute them.”
El Salvador’s two largest violent youth gangs, the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, are both represented in the prison. The country’s prisons are badly overcrowded.