THE bodies of a national beauty queen and her sister were found buried by a river in northern Honduras on Wednesday, shocking the Central American nation and highlighting the depth of its long standing security crisis.
MarÃa JosÃ© Alvarado, 19, (pic) had been due to travel to London on Thursday in preparation for the Miss World pageant in December. Her body was found alongside that of her 23-year-old sister SofÃa, who worked as a primary school teacher.
The two young women had disappeared on last Thursday night after attending the birthday party of SofÃaâ€™s boyfriend in a spa close to the city of Santa BÃ¡rbara, where the family home is also located. The story had attracted huge interest across the country before the bodies were found after a major search involving the army as well as police that extended to the border with Guatemala.
Police were reportedly led to the site about seven miles from the spa by SofÃaâ€™s boyfriend who is now being accused of the murders.
Leandro Osorio, head of Hondurasâ€™s criminal investigation unit, said: â€œWe have the author of this abominable act, Mr Plutarco RuÃz. We also have the murder weapon and the vehicle used to transport the victims.â€
Local media reported that RuÃz shot at SofÃa and also hit MarÃa JosÃ© in an attack of jealously allegedly triggered by SofÃa dancing with another man at his party.
The two women were reportedly being taken to hospital when they died, prompting the decision to half bury them by the river in the hope that their bodies would decompose quickly.
Police have said that they have also arrested another man, and are looking for other accomplices.
â€œThe investigative units of the state have formed a united front to respond to this abominable act, that has put society in mourning,â€ Osorio said.
The disappearance and subsequent murder of the Alvarado sisters are set in the context of a cataclysmic security crisis that has resulted in Honduras registering the worldâ€™s worst murder rates for several years.
The national homicide rate in Honduras in 2013 stood at 83 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, about double the rates in Latin Americaâ€™s other most violent countries: Venezuela, Belize and El Salvador.
The murder rate in the city of Santa BÃ¡rbara is the same as the national average. The rate in New York City in 2014 was four murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while in London it was below one.
In an interview prior to the discovery of the bodies, police investigator Vicente Reyes explained the unusual size of the police operation searching for the women with reference to MarÃa JosÃ©â€™s position as â€œa representative of the countryâ€.
Latin American countries tend to put great store by their beauty queens, who often go on to become television presenters or entertainers.
The unsullied reputation and relative economic stability of the victims also stands out in a country where much of the violence is often explained away as the result of rivalries between the street gangs that exercise a reign of terror in the territories they control in many parts of the country, particularly in the slums surrounding big cities. Those recognised as completely innocent victims are often from poor families who have no way of escaping the bloodbath in their barrios.
As well as competing in beauty pageants, MarÃa JosÃ© was studying computing at a private college in Santa BÃ¡rbara. Teachers at the school said she was a hardworking student who was remarkably modest about her success. Her eldest sister Cory told the Guardian that the beauty queen never showed off and was notably shy of putting on her crown.
â€œShe was very excited about going to London,â€ the 26-year-old said. â€œShe saw the contest as a way of getting ahead.â€
As soon as news of the murders broke, local TV crews gathered outside the door of the family home in a lower-middle-class area of Santa BÃ¡rbara. The sound of sobs could be heard from inside the house, though a man who identified himself as a friend of the family at the gate told a reporter that the mother had yet to be told her daughters were dead.
â€œThey were such good girls,â€ a passing neighbour told the cameras, between tears. â€œThis is barbaric.â€
Information describing Miss Honduras on the Miss World website says her ambition was to become a diplomat. It ends with a quote in which she highlights Hondurasâ€™s cultural diversity and encourages tourists to visit adding, â€œthe best is yet to comeâ€.
Immediately after the discovery of the bodies, local newspaper La Tribuna published an editorial highlighting the tragic irony of MarÃa JosÃ©â€™s efforts to improve the countryâ€™s reputation.
â€œShe wanted to tell the world that Honduras is full of hard working people and full of attractions,â€ the paper wrote. â€œUnfortunately a bullet killed the message, changing it for one in which Honduras is the most violence country on the planet.â€
Former presidential candidate and television personality Salvador Nasrallah, who hosts a TV game show on which MarÃa JosÃ© also worked, said the beauty queen â€œfell into a trap, a game with guns, and ended up a victim of a violent system.â€
Nasrallah added, â€œA lot of girls die this way, but because they are not famous, it doesnâ€™t get the attention and the crimes go unpunished.â€ – The Guardian