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A massacre explored: murder in the jungle

Part 1: How seven members of a Colombian peace community were brutally murdered.

Dario Yanez said army Capt. Guillermo Gordillo and four AUC commanders decided they "had to finish them off or kill these people because supposedly they were informants of the guerrilla.”

In the days following the disappearance of Guerra and his family, more than 100 community members embarked on a journey by foot and mule to find them. They discovered the boy's skull and vertebrae cast aside on the riverbank away from the rest of his body. Areiza’s green sweatpants were pulled down to her knees and her body slung over those of Guerra and his son. There was not much left of their bodies, wrote Jesus Abad, a photographer from El Tiempo newspaper who accompanied the group. A machete lay among weeds.

Community members watched over the bodies, throwing rocks at vultures throughout the night and the following day to prevent them from further devouring the bodies until a helicopter with army and police officers arrived.

Later on the day of the murders, military and AUC fighters opened fire on a house they believed to have FARC members inside, according to court documents. It was the home of Alfonso Tuberquia, another community leader. A grenade thrown in the attack killed his wife. A guerrilla fighter died nearby in the shoot-out.

When Tuberquia’s two children, Nathalie, 5, and Santiago, shy of 2 years old, emerged alive, paramilitary commanders and Gordillo discussed what to do with them, AUC fighters told investigators. They “reached the conclusion that these kids would be a threat in the future … that they would grow up and become guerrilla,” said paramilitary fighter Jorge Salgado.

AUC fighter Joel Vargas told prosecutors that one of his commanders sent the order over the radio: "Assassinate the kids, but silently." Testimonies from three paramilitary fighters say Gordillo issued the same order as he stood by the house, a claim the ex-captain denies. Gordillo declined to be interviewed for this article.

At that moment, a man appeared. It was Tuberquia.

AUC members present described to investigators a heart-breaking scene. “Papa!” the kids screamed as they ran to him. His hands behind his neck, Tuberquia assured them nothing would happen. Tuberquia “begged our commanders to please not kill the kids, that if they wanted to, kill him but leave the kids alive,” Salgado said.

The paramilitary commanders and Gordillo discussed what they were about to do, according to testimonies from paramilitary soldiers. “We made a verbal pact, on the part of the military and on the part of the personnel that I had, that we wouldn’t say anything,” Vargas said.

Tuberquia, seemingly aware of their unfolding fate, told his children they were going to take a long trip and they might not return. Nathalie put some clothes for her baby brother in a cloth bag and waved goodbye, Salgado said.

He said he saw his colleague kick Tuberquia to the ground, point a gun to his head and tell him he and his family would have to be executed for collaborating with guerrillas.