Dad seeks justice for son slain in broken Honduras

Associated Press Published: November 12, 2012
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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — In a capital so dangerous that only the "walking dead" are said to venture out after dark, nothing could draw an obedient son into the deserted night.

Nothing, that is, but a girl.

Ebed Yanes had friended her on Facebook, and the studious 15-year-old was desperate to meet her. "My parents are still awake," he wrote her that Saturday night in May. "I'll shower while they go to bed and I'll get the keys to the motorcycle."

But he never found her. "I've been looking for 45 minutes," he texted, "but now I better get back before the soldiers catch me."

Ebed knew he lived in a perilous country, with a murder rate that likely makes Honduras the most violent country in the world. The state of emergency declared by the government wouldn't stop him. Nor would the drug gangs that handle three-quarters of all cocaine headed for the U.S.

By 1:30 a.m., Ebed was dead, slumped over his father's motorcycle with a bullet to the back of his head.

Figuring out what happened has become a mission for the boy's father, Wilfredo Yanes, and revealed the dysfunction that's made this impoverished country a barely functioning state. It's also raised questions about the efficacy of millions of dollars in anti-narcotics aid the U.S. military has provided Honduras.

"I'm not only reacting to the impotence that my son's death made me feel," said Wilfredo, a 57-year-old organic food supplier. "I can't allow for rights to be violated, and even less if it's my family's right to life."

Every Sunday, before going to church, Ebed's job was to wash the family's car. That Sunday, Wilfredo noticed that his car was still dirty. Ebed was not in bed, and the family's motorcycle was missing.

Wilfredo's boy never left their gated community alone, had never taken public transportation and didn't know his way about the city. Even when he went to Tae Kwon Do lessons, his older sister waited in the car for him. It was hard to imagine what could have happened to him.

"We need to stay calm," Wilfredo told his wife, Berlin Caceres, 42, a university professor.

First they filed a missing person report with police. They also turned to the homicide division, where officers said they had found a motorcycle next to the body of an unidentified young man. There had been a party in the neighborhood, they said, and somebody from the party must have killed him.

Wilfredo recognized his red motorcycle.

"Is it him?" asked his wife.

"Yes, it's him," Wilfredo said. She fainted, and he barely had time to catch her before she hit the ground.

Wilfredo walked into the city morgue alone, where he found his only son, with a broken jaw that hadn't even seen its first shave, and an exit wound next to his mouth.

As shock set in, Wilfredo received his son's belongings: his BlackBerry, a broken helmet, a set of house keys.

On his way to the funeral, he stopped at the police station near where Ebed had been found. Two policemen said they had heard shots late Saturday but had been too afraid to go out and investigate.

On the block where his son died, a witness told Wilfredo he had seen six to eight masked soldiers in dark uniforms approaching a body. They poked it with their rifles, then picked up the empty bullet casings and returned to their vehicle, an unusually big pickup truck.

After the sun came up, residents said, they went outside and gathered bullet casings that the soldiers had failed to find. They gave them to the father, who carried them to his son's funeral.

That night, at Ebed's wake, Wilfredo made a promise: "My son will not be just one more statistic."

The father knew the long odds he faced: The country's police investigated only 21 percent of cases between 2010 and 2011, public records show. But Wilfredo was determined to solve his son's case.

He reached out to Julieta Castellanos, the president of National University, whose son had been killed at a police roadblock last year. She had become a fearless critic of police impunity and advised Wilfredo to gather evidence and contact the prosecutor's office.