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HomeCentral AmericaHondurasHonduran Mother Seeks Solace in Gang's Clandestine Graves

Honduran Mother Seeks Solace in Gang’s Clandestine Graves

María Suyapa was 13 years old when gang members raped her and recruited her. Three years later, her mother knows they killed her and hopes that her bones are in the clandestine graves found in northern Honduras to give them a “Christian burial.” “I’m seeing if I can recover her little bones. I come to see if they brought her to me,” says Nolvia, 38, sitting in the Forensic Medicine office in San Pedro Sula. Out of fear, she uses a fictitious name, just like when identifying her daughter.

Three weeks ago, authorities began excavating on the slope of a hill on the outskirts of that city, located 180 km from Tegucigalpa. Special agents have exhumed 13 skeletal remains from the arid earth so far, among the dry undergrowth from the inclement sun of the season. In another nearby location, they removed one more. Several clandestine gang graves have been found in various places.

Although the government of Xiomara Castro imposed a state of emergency in December 2022, trying to emulate President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador, the gangs – the largest being Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 – continue their crimes and offenses of extortion and drugs.

From a shot to the head

María Suyapa, Nolvia recounts, was in her first year of high school but, after raping her, they forced her to join a gang in Lomas del Carmen, a neighborhood of concrete and iron houses, with cement streets. “She left her studies. They took her to live with them,” she lamented.

That is why she asks the government to act: “It cannot be that they are grabbing girls and putting them into those gangs. They are children, they have to study, they have their whole lives ahead of them. This cannot be happening,” she said. Two years after the abduction, around five in the afternoon on February 25, 2023, some gang members “took her off a bus” and she disappeared, Nolvia recounts about the last time her daughter was seen alive.

A few days later, the ‘mareros’ wrote to her on Facebook that “she shouldn’t look for her anymore because she would never find her.” “They told me that they had killed her with a shot to the head and she was in that clandestine cemetery,” she narrated. Some neighbors, the woman continued, “saw her when they took her” to the hill to kill her, apparently due to an internal conflict in the gang. Nolvia believes that María Suyapa’s remains are in the graves because she heard on the news that an exhumed skull had a bullet hole.

But forensic expert Vladimir Núñez explained that “they all have a shot to the head” and “dental tests or DNA analysis” must be done.

The crazy houses

According to the authorities, several skeletal remains belong to people who refused to leave their homes to the gang members. They are popularly called “crazy houses” when they use them for murders.

In Lomas del Carmen and other nearby neighborhoods there are “a lot of empty houses and abandoned lots” by the neighbors, 72-year-old Juan, who only gave his name for security reasons, said.

The gang members also forced Nolvia to leave the neighborhood. “They were going to kill me. They arrive with guns and say: ‘you have a few hours to leave’. One has to abandon the house because if not, they kill you.” “There are quite a few cases like this, but people don’t speak out of fear,” the woman explained, who now lives in her sister’s house.

Nolvia also feared that, if she stayed in the neighborhood, the story of María Suyapa would be repeated with her other 11-year-old daughter. Juan estimates that “there are about 40” skeletal remains on the hill because he says he saw many times when they took the victims and “buried” them there.

The deputy commissioner of the National Police, Enoc Funes, said that “the operations are permanent” and dozens of police officers and soldiers set up checkpoints and go out on patrol. But the violence does not stop. In 2023, Honduras recorded a rate of 34 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, almost six times the world average.

Like Nolvia, other people go to Forensic Medicine. Some harbor the hope that their missing relatives are alive, but those who know they are dead wish for a little peace.

“Finding my daughter’s bones is the only thing I want” to find a little solace, Nolvia resigns herself.

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