'My soul has left me': family grieves after El Salvador mass grave discovered

Clandestine cemetery at the house of a former police officer in Chalchuapa
·3 min read

By Nelson Renteria

SANTA ANA, El Salvador (Reuters) -In his wrinkled hands, Jose de la Cruz held a tangled gold-colored necklace adorned with hearts and a pendant spelling out the word "love."

The necklace belonged to his granddaughter Jacquelinne Palomo Lima, one of more than a dozen people suspected to have been murdered by a former El Savaldoran police officer, Hugo Osorio, in his home.

De la Cruz, 79, also lost his daughter Mirna Cruz Lima and grandson Alexis Palomo Lima inside that house, according to police, in an atrocity that has shocked all El Salvador.

"My soul has left me," he said in an interview at his daughter's home, the walls of which were lined with diplomas and stacks of books on literature, physics and medicine.

Alexis, a fourth-year medical student, was planning to travel to the United States to look for work and buy a house for his family back in El Salvador, de la Cruz recalled.

The family raised $7,000 for the trip by mortgaging de la Cruz's house and contacted Osorio's brother, who allegedly worked as a human smuggler, de la Cruz said.

But nothing went according to plan.

After the family delivered the money, Osorio arrived at the store where Mirna and Jacquelinne worked, saying that Alexis had been kidnapped but that he knew where he was being held, according to an account told to de la Cruz. He would not say who told him.

The two women then got into his car and traveled to his home in the municipality of Chalchuapa, some 80 km (50 miles) northwest of the capital San Salvador, according to this account.

Police say that once Osorio got the two into the house he murdered Alexis and Mirna, while Jacquelinne escaped and ran down the street screaming. Osorio quickly recaptured her and, after dragging her back inside, killed her, the police said.

A neighbor, alerted by the sound of her screams, called the police, authorities say.

After discovering the bodies of Mirna, Jacquelinne, and Alexis, and arresting Osorio, authorities found a mass grave containing many more corpses.

Reuters has been unable to obtain information from the Attorney General's office or the Security Ministry about the precise number of victims. The Attorney General's office has said that the majority of the victims may be women.

El Salvador's national police chief, Mauricio Arriaza, said Osorio was removed from police ranks 15 years ago after he was convicted of raping a woman and a minor, crimes for which he was sentenced to five years in jail.

Osorio is currently being held in a maximum security prison charged with the killing of two women and two men. Sexual violence is the leading theory for the killings, according to prosecutors.

Authorities also point to the possibility of a wider conspiracy as 10 others have been charged with murdering nine women in presumably related homicides, along with four other murders of victims whose bodies have turned up in the grave.

"I can't judge him. It's God who is going to judge that day, the living and the dead," de la Cruz said.

(Reporting by Nelson RenteriaEditing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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