In a quiet school in a remote Mayan region of Guatemala a man entered a classroom and killed two children, aged 8 and 13, with a machete. The killer himself was then lynched and burnt alive by angry villagers.
The two children were buried in a municipal cemetery attended by their classmates. A picture of Juan Armando Coy Cal was placed on his coffin for friends to see.
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"The first thing I saw was two children walking over a blood stain"
I was listening to the alarmed voice of a radio commentator. Once I realized what he was talking about, I began to worry too.
Within minutes, all local radio and TV stations were talking about the man who had killed two children inside a school in Tactic and who was lynched by outraged villagers.
While driving I started to remember the stories that are told in this part of Guatemala, where the people are predominantly of Mayan descend. Where “the people rule” and Mayan law is applied and mob justice, or lynchings, are common.
Arriving in Tactic I could sense the tension. I went to the school and the first thing I saw was two children walking over a blood stain and something that had burnt. The blood stain and the burnt spot was the place where the killer, 23-year old Julio Xicol, had finally died.
Engulfed in flames he had dragged himself for ten yards after people had beaten him with sticks, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. There was a thick trail of blood on the floor coming from the class room where he had killed eight-year-old Evelyn Yanisa Saquij Bin and 13-year-old Juan Armando Coy Cal.
Xicol who, according to his mother, suffered from mental problems and substance abuse, had barricaded himself in the class room. Holes in the door suggested that villagers shot at him through the door.
When I went to the houses of the two young victims, I could feel the piercing pain of the family. I always try to keep my feelings under control, to maintain a distance, to be able to work freely without hurting anyone, without feeling too much, but this time I felt something very different. I don’t like to mix my personal feelings with work, but this time it was inevitable. I was carried away by their pain.
Suddenly someone told me that they had “caught the accomplices and that they are burning them behind the church”. There had been a rumor that Xicol hadn’t acted alone – stories full of contradictions, in a language I couldn’t understand.
When I arrived behind the church, everything was in a state of confusion. People were screaming in their language but this time I could understand the word “gasoline.” It was chaos. A man, beaten and with blood dripping from his nose was tied to a light post.
I could see another three men in a police car. One closed his eyes, seeming relieved to be sitting inside the car. But people were screaming to burn the car with the three men in it. Two were sitting in the back seat and one lay on the truck bed. Infuriated villagers opened the car door and tried to drag the men outside.
Suddenly, a woman jumped on the back of the truck and started hitting one of the men with her shoe. She poked one of her fingers deep into his ear - the police just stood by and looked in the other direction.
The woman kept on hitting him stopping just for a brief moment when a boy passed her a stick. She then continued to beat the man relentlessly with the stick. The man groaned and whined with his hands tied behind his back. His panicked screams couldn’t stop the fury of the woman. The crowd just applauded. They were content, maybe because for them, justice was being served.
Later I went to the morgue, wanting to know what happened to Xicol’s body as nobody had come to collect him. A small, elderly lady was there. With the help of an interpreter working for the morgue she told me that she was the mother of Xicol. “I’m Adela Xicol,” she said. She wanted to take the body, wishing to bury him quickly.
Very few people attended the funeral of Xicol. Adela asked for the coffin to be opened. She stood in the rain, crying when she saw the mutilated body of her son, beaten, burnt and destroyed.
The next day was the funeral of Evelyn and Juan Armando. A procession of villagers followed the coffins. Young students, dressed in their school uniforms, stood ready for the arrival of their dead school mates. They sang the national anthem, nervously shuffling their small feet. Some laughed innocently. They are so young that they completely ignore the magnitude of what has happened.
It is raining and the sun is hiding. In only two days I’ve seen violence, pain, crying and hate interlaced, present in the same people. But their crying is different and the more I listen to their cries, the more they sound to me like a soulful and nostalgic song.