The massacre of eight people at a morgue in Honduras' most dangerous city serves as a brutal reminder of the violence that continues to plague the country, often committed by organized crime groups.
Following the August 18 murder of Jose Luis Terrero Piedi in the nearby city of Puerto Cortes, family and friends gathered at the Forensic Medicine morgue in the northwestern city of San Pedro Sula. As they stood outside, two trucks pulled up and approximately 10 heavily armed men in ski masks jumped out and opened fire, reported El Heraldo.
Five people attempted to take shelter in nearby vehicles, but were shot dead. A total of eight were killed and six others injured in the gunfire, reported La Tribuna. No arrests have yet been made in connection with the case.
According to El Heraldo, the attack resembled two other recent massacres in the country. All three cases were perpetrated by heavily armed, masked men, who waited until police were between their nightly rounds.
Authorities believe the attack may have been linked to criminal rivalries.
"Our hypothesis based on the modus operandi of criminal groups is that we are looking at a case of a dispute between two groups for some illicit business," said National Police Director Ramon Sabillon, according to La Prensa.
Leandro Osorio, the director of the National Criminal Investigation Unit (DNIC), said that the idea of a criminal vendetta was supported by the fact that another Terrero family member was killed in January.
InSight Crime Analysis
While it is not yet clear who perpetrated the crime or what their motives were, the heavy weaponry and professional dress of the attackers suggests they belonged to an organized gang.
Massacres in Honduras -- the world's most dangerous country outside a war zone -- are frequent and are often linked to organized crime. According to Proceso, there have been four mass killings in Honduras in the past month, with a total of 26 victims, all thought to be linked to disputes between criminal groups. Last year, there were an average of 10 massacres a month in the first nine months.
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If the most recent massacre resulted from a criminal dispute, it could have been triggered by shake-ups in both the Honduran and regional underworlds. Authorities believe that a series of killings earlier this year in San Pedro Sula were fallout from the capture and extradition of Honduran drug capo Carlos "El Negro" Lobo. The city is also a strategic operating platform for Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, whose top leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was arrested in February, sending shockwaves through the drug business. Meanwhile, there are a growing number of Honduran drug trafficking groups fighting for control of territory.
Events like this are a reminder that despite the Honduran government's dubious claim that murders are decreasing, deadly violence is common and often unpunished.