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Second Salvador Massacre, But of Common Folk

November 28, 1989

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ The seven men were not priests or human rights campaigners, so their deaths have gone largely unnoticed.

But according to relatives and neighbors, including a young man who barely escaped the slaughter, six of them were lined up against a peach-colored masonry wall and shot to death on Nov. 18. A seventh youth who happened upon the killings by chance also was slain.

The relatives, neighbors and the young escapee all saw government soldiers a block away from the killing site in the poor suburb of Cuscatancingo minutes before the seven were slain. The young man said he heard the fatal gunshots while hiding from the soldiers.

The dead were identified as Walter and Raul Zetino, Oscar Lopez, Jose Crespin, Jorge Campos, Raul Castro and Emanuel Medrano.

The killings occurred two days after the slaying of six Jesuits, their cook and her daughter at Central American University.

The Central American University killings, carried out by men who a survivor said wore military uniforms, stunned El Salvador and caused an international outcry. There was no international outcry for the seven slain in Cuscatancingo.

Spokesmen for the Salvadoran armed forces press office were unavailable for comment on the Cuscatancingo killings.

Raul Zetino was found ″with his social security card in his hand. He was still trying to identify himself when they shot him,″ said a neighbor, standing in front of the blood-spattered, bullet-riddled wall where the six bodies were found the morning of Nov. 19 in Cuscatancingo at the end of the dusty, partially cobbled Pasaje El Gringo - ″Gringo Alley.″

Medrano, 14, was the only victim not from the neighborhood. His mother, Alicia, said he was there trying to buy bread. Medrano appears to have had the bad luck to stumble on the killings as they were being carried out, or just afterward. His body was found 10 yards away.

Because his family did not have the $35 for a proper burial, he is the only one still buried at the end of the alley.

Relatives and neighbors had buried the seven in a common grave at the end of the alley on Nov. 19, when much of the capital was still convulsed by the biggest guerrilla offensive of the 10-year-old civil war.

The six local men were exhumed with approval of Justice of the Peace Jesus Cordoba on Nov. 23 and taken to cemeteries.

″They were not guerrillas,″ said the coach of the soccer team on which three of the slain men played. ″They had jobs, families. Everybody around here knew them. A guerrilla doesn’t have time to work, take care of his family and play soccer.″

Three of the six were day laborers. One worked at a glass factory and another at a brewery. Lopez, a 23-year-old illegal immigrant waiter in Los Angeles, had arrived only two weeks earlier to visit friends from his neighborhood.

Cuscatancingo, like other working class districts along the capital’s northern fringe, was the scene of combat in the Nov. 11 offensive’s first days. Pasaje El Gringo had come through relatively unscathed, although fighting was more intense a few blocks away. Air force strafing and rocketing had come too close for comfort.

″We decided to evacuate,″ said Crespin’s sister, Rosa Maria. ″But one always worries about leaving the house completely abandoned. So the guys decided to stay, to keep an eye on things, even though we begged them to come too.″

″The muchachos (guerrillas) had come through a few days before. But we had no problem with them, and they didn’t stop to stay here,″ said a neighbor.

″We were just sitting around, talking, when someone threw a rock at a dog in the street in front of us and made it bark and run,″ said the young man who escaped.

For days he had refused to meet with any journalist and was only persuaded to tell his story after the strictest assurances, delivered through relatives, that he would not be identified.

″Here, out of fear, one abstains from saying important things,″ said a relative. ″Sooner or later, they catch up to you.″

″The soldiers saw Oscar and yelled for him to come out into the street,″ said the young man who escaped the Cuscatancingo killings. ″He went out with his hands in the air, saying ‘We’re civilians.’ Jorge and I were sitting with our backs to the wall and they hadn’t seen us. I felt something bad was going to happen and said to him, ‘Let’s get out of here.’

″He said, ‘We haven’t done anything, so why should we run?’ and stood up to take out his identification. The soldier in charge of the patrol swore at Oscar out in the street: ‘You, SOB. What the hell are you doing here?’

″I stayed crouched down and took off along the wall and around the corner,″ he said.

″I ran a few blocks and hid. About 10 minutes later there was a long burst from an M-16. Then the coups de grace, one by one.″

Cordoba said: ″The only thing I can attest to is that the bodies of those seven were found at that place on that date, that six were exhumed on Nov. 23 and that they all died of bullet wounds.″

″Who killed them, I don’t know,″ he said.

Cordoba said he will send the Supreme Court his monthly report of all official business and the case will be pursued if an offended party, such as a relative, files a complaint, or if the attorney general’s office decides it merits pursuit, even in the absence of a complaint.

The attorney general’s office would then make a preliminary investigation, which probably would include another exhumation and autopsies, and assign the case to a criminal court judge.

Meanwhile, Josefina Crespin, Jose’s mother, continues to live in the green house next to her son’s, the one whose facade served as the firing squad wall.

Three-year-old Carolina, one of Jose’s two daughters, played in the sand in front of the house.

″She doesn’t even know what happened,″ the grandmother said. ″She just keeps asking, ’Where’s papi?‴

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