Photos

Portraits of Mothers Whose Children Were Murdered

Every year, tens of thousands of people are murdered in Venezuela. I spoke to some of the mothers who have to live with those numbers.

by Luis Cobelo
20 January 2017, 12:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico

Every year, tens of thousands of people are murdered in Venezuela, while Caracas is not only the country's  capital but also the murder capital of the world. In 2015, there were almost 4,000 murders in a city of about 3 million people. According to official government numbers, 18,000 people were murdered that same year in the entire country, while the independent Venezuelan Violence Observatory claims it was closer to 28,000. 

Many of those deaths are the result of robberies, kidnappings, gang disputes, and sometimes police violence. Since 2014, Venezuelans have regularly taken to the streets to protest the violence (among other things that plague the country, like hyperinflation and corruption) – protests that sometimes also end in violence.

Thinking about Venezuela's murder rates is harrowing but mostly abstract, so I decided to visit some Venezuelan women whose children have been murdered. They talked to me about their loss, while I photographed them in their homes.

 ALBIS

Albis Hernández is the mother of Esteban, a 17-year-old student who was shot and killed by a police officer. Esteban was riding on the back of a moped with a friend, they were coming back from school and were both in their school uniforms. 

While they were riding home, news broke that a neighbourhood bakery had been robbed and the owner told police that the thieves had been two young boys. When the police officers shouted at their moped to stop, Esteban's friend got scared and rode on. One of the police officers fired a shot and hit Esteban in the back. He died on the spot. The owner of the bakery later confirmed that Esteban and his friend weren't the ones who had robbed him.  

CONSUELO

Richard Alexander died from a gunshot to the head while on his way to the supermarket. His mother Consuelo Palacios has no idea why her son was killed. 

All she knows is that a couple of men attacked him with baseball bats and that the fight ended with a gunshot – or maybe two, she's not sure. His body was found two days later, on a bit of wasteland near that supermarket.

GLORIA

When he was nine, Omar got caught in the middle of a shootout on his way home from school. His family lives in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of the city of Petare, where gangs of heavily armed boys aged 15 to 20 make the rules.

Omar and his mother were just getting off the school minibus at the moment a territorial shootout between rival gangs started. Gloria was holding Omar's hand and felt the weight of her son's body fall. He was hit in the head by a stray bullet.

MARÍA DEL CARMEN

María del Carmen's sons Ronnie and Jorge were murdered by a gang in the neighbourhood, where they used to live with their mother. Their pictures now hang on the wall in her new house – she moved away from her old neighbourhood, after gangsters threatened to kill her third son.

She says that her sons weren't involved in anything illegal – that they just wanted to leave the area, but they were stopped. She is now responsible for bringing up the daughter of one of her murdered sons.

MARÍA HELENA

Three of María Helena's children and one of her nephews were murdered. Her son Wilmer was shot in the face at 39, while getting off a bus. He was caught in the middle of a shootout between rival gangs. The same happened to her 20-year-old son Yender – he was shot three times and died in hospital three days later.

When her daughter Eliana was 12, she was shot in the head and died on the doorstep of her house. María Helena's nephew, Erasmus, died from a stray bullet, aged 20.

OLGA

Julián Julián, nickname JJ, was killed when his car was stolen. His mother Olga says JJ was "one of the good ones" – a busy veterinarian from Barquisimeto, who died at 29.

One day at lunchtime, he went out to buy a roast chicken. On the way back to his car, he saw a man approaching with a gun in his hand. The man tried to take his car, but JJ apparently made a gesture that he didn't like, so JJ was shot five times. His murderer fled the scene, but did not take the car. 

YNGRIS

Yngris' son William was murdered at a street party, by someone who Yngris is sure was the boyfriend of a famous Venezuelan model.  

William tried to break up a fight between the murderer and one of his friends and was killed for it. His suspected murderer fled the country and was never caught. 

JENETH

Jeneth's son Bassil became an icon of Venezulela's 2014 protests, against the government's lack of action against violence and hyperinflation. During one of those protests, on the 12th of February, Bassil was hit by a police bullet and went down in the centre of Caracas. 

Jenet had no idea her son had died until hours after his death, which made international headlines.

CARMEN

During anti-government and anti-violence protests in San Christóbal in February 2014, Carmen's son Jimmi Vargas was hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, which made him fall off the roof of the building he was standing on. The blow to the head he suffered turned out to be fatal, but while he was lying there, still alive, the National Guard allegedly kept shooting rubber bullets at him. 

The last thing Carmen heard from her son was a text message that read: "Could you make me a snack? I'm on my way home."

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