A three-hour standoff ended with the death of two prisoners and one guard during a thwarted prison break Wednesday. The escape attempt occurred at Costa Rica’s maximum security La Reforma Penitentiary, northwest of capital San José in the province of Alajuela. Three guards were injured in the attack, which began around 2 p.m. inside Costa Rica’s largest prison.
One prisoner – Erlyn Hurtado – was killed by police just a few feet from the prison’s perimeter gate. Hurtado had been serving a 50-year sentence for participating in a botched 2005 bank robbery and kidnapping in the cloud forest town of Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica. In that bloody attack on Monteverde’s Banco Nacional branch, nine people were killed, including Hurtado’s two brothers, and 17 injured during a 28-hour standoff.
A second prisoner killed in Wednesday’s standoff is Jhonny Rodríguez, who participated in a 2006 escape attempt from the same prison.
Johel Araya, who was injured in that 2006 escape, is believed to have played a key role in organizing Wednesday’s attack.
Armed with firearms and fake grenades, prisoners took a group of at least five guards and a prison official hostage before forcing their way through the prison complex. Efforts by police to negotiate the hostages’ release failed and a shootout ensued. Prison guard Francis Morales died shortly after at a local hospital.
Police say the prisoners obtained weapons by disarming three guards, Teletica reported.
In a message posted on the social media website twitter, President Laura Chinchilla thanked the forces who put an end to the prison break: “My appreciation to the security forces of the government and the [Judicial Investigation Police] for its speedy and effective response. We will not tolerate situations like this.”
In a press conference after the siege had ended, Justice Minister Hernando París denounced security conditions at La Reforma, saying, “Costa Rica doesn’t have a maximum security prison.”
París called for the construction of a new, safer maximum security prison. He also said that while he regretted that three people were killed, the outcome could have been much worse.
OIJ investigators later discovered an abandoned vehicle laden with weapons and money a mere block from the prison, the daily La Nación reported. Inside the car were AK-47 assault rifles, small arms, ammunition and $2,000 in cash.
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