SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Former professional soccer player Ladislao Esaú Nerio Córtez was among seven victims killed in gang-related violence on Feb. 2 in the municipalities of Sonsonate and Acajutla.
In less than a 24-hour period, five bodies were found in plastic bags with their feet and hands tied and showing signs of torture and strangulation. Two more bodies were found later that day in the municipality of Acajutla, 12 miles south of Sonsonate, according to the National Civil Police (PNC).
Nerio, a former midfielder who played Sonsonate FC, CD Águila and Club Deportivo Universidad de El Salvador during his 12-year career, turned 35 in November. The body of Nero, a father of children ages 5, 8 and 14, was found in the Taltopa neighborhood of Sonsonate, a few yards from the Judicial Center of that department, the police reported.
“I don’t know of any suspects who could have killed him,” Nerio’s mother, Josefina Cortez, said to Salvadoran daily El Diario de Hoy.
But the PNC does. Authorities executed searches in four abandoned residences around the Sensunapán neighborhood on Feb. 3, during which Irvin Alberto Monge Rivas, 20; his mother, Osiris de Jesús Rivas de Monge; Blanca Ester Bernar Martínez, 31, and Rodolfo Ernesto Márquez Gallardo, 18, were taken into custody and charged in playing a role in at least one of the gang-style killings.
The suspects are being held in jail until their trial.
“There is enough evidence, such as blood, to indicate that the persons found [murdered] around the area had been executed in one of the houses we searched,” said Douglas Omar García Funes, the chief of the PNC’s western region.
David Munguía Payés, the minister of Justice and Public Safety said the murders were gang-related because of their brutal nature.
“We are almost convinced that the killings were committed by gangs, because of the type of crime and because they were perpetrated in areas where gangs operate,” he said.
Nerio’s former teammates mourned his death and extended their condolences to his family, as they fondly remembered the man who started his professional career with Sonsonate FC – a second-division team in 1998 – before winning a title with first-division squad CD Águila in 2006. He retired after playing for Club Deportivo Universidad de El Salvador in 2010.
A moment of silence was observed this past weekend in soccer stadiums nationwide to honor Nerio, who was buried Feb. 4 in Sonsonate, 40 miles from the nation’s capital of San Salvador.
“We of the University of El Salvador are saddened with the death of Ladislao,” said Luis Gálvez, who coaches Club Deportivo Universidad de El Salvador. “He was a part of our family and we are sorry for what has happened. It is painful news for Salvadoran soccer as a whole.”
In addition to finding Nerio’s body in Sonsonate, police identified the bodies of 18-year-old William Alexander Labor Portillo, who was found on Inclán street, on the eastern side of the Asturias neighborhood, just meters away from the PNC’s Extortion Investigation Unit. They also found the body of 24-year-old Carlos Antonio García, who was murdered in the neighborhood of Sensunapán, close to where the Military Headquarters Number 6 (DM-6) is located.
Police haven’t released the identities of the two other bodies they found in the San Rafael neighborhood of Sonsonate or the two they discovered in Acajutla.
The murders were the latest in what has become commonplace in one of the Central American country’s bloodiest departments.
The department, which has a population of about 439,000, was home to 510 murders in 2011, a rate of 110.5 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML). Sonsonate was the site of 11.7 percent of the country’s 4,347 murders – the country’s highest number in 10 years – according to the IML.
The departments with the next-highest murder rates in 2011 were Santa Ana (84.8 per 1000,000 residents), San Salvador (83.8), La Libertad (70.6) and La Paz (70.2).