As police announced the capture of an alleged gunman, thousands of Colombians surged through the streets of Medellin on Sunday to mourn soccer player Andres Escobar, killed for his accidental role in the national team's elimination from the World Cup.
Draped in the Colombian flag and crying "Justice," sorrowful and outraged fans crowded a stadium to view Escobar's simple wooden casket and then accompanied the funeral cortege to a packed cemetery. As fellow players looked on, the 27-year-old defender was buried after a eulogy from President Cesar Gaviria.
Escobar was shot to death in his hometown of Medellin early Saturday by gunmen who chided him for accidentally scoring a goal against his own team in Colombia's World Cup match against the United States. Colombia, despite its initial ranking as a favorite, went on to lose the June 22 game in a shocking upset and eventually was eliminated from the tournament.
Police said they suspect drug traffickers who reportedly bet on Colombia and lost huge amounts of money might have been behind the murder. Judicial officials said Sunday they had arrested a disgruntled bettor who they believe is behind the killing, but they did not identify the suspect as a drug trafficker.
Still, most Colombians remained suspicious and fearful that the same drug violence that has claimed the lives of presidential candidates, journalists and hundreds of other Colombians through the years--and that previously had tainted the beloved national sport--had struck again.
"A new outrage has descended on the nation with the death of (Escobar)," the Bogota daily El Espectador said in its lead editorial Sunday. "Nothing in the course of human relations justifies an act like this."
El Tiempo, Colombia's largest newspaper, said, "We ponder this, and still we do not find the answer to who we are, or what the origin is of this violence that kills without compassion."
A man identified as Humberto Castro Munoz was arrested late Saturday and confessed Sunday to shooting Escobar, according to Humberto Rodriguez, chief of the national intelligence police. Castro Munoz, who was transferred under heavy guard to Bogota on Sunday, apparently worked for Santiago Gallon Henao, who authorities suspect ordered the murder because of his gambling losses. Gallon Henao was also in custody.
It was still not clear if the murder was premeditated or occurred spontaneously in a drunken rage, as some officials claim. Escobar was gunned down about 3 a.m. Saturday as he left a restaurant in Medellin, 150 miles northeast of the capital.
At the funeral, family and fans wept openly as Gaviria blamed the young soccer star's death on the "absurd violence" that plagues Colombia.
"Andres Escobar will remain in our memory as a loyal player, a complete man, a good family man and as a model Colombian," Gaviria said.
Escobar's coffin was wrapped in the green-and-white flag of his club team, Atletico Nacional. Mourners draped themselves in national flags, a ritual that has become typical at soccer games, chanted for justice and tossed flowers at the casket.
Mourners began filing past Escobar's coffin Saturday night and continued through Sunday, at one point lining up for five city blocks to catch a glimpse of their fallen hero.
"Unpardonable!" shouted the banner front-page headline in Medellin's El Colombiano.
Police said they had stepped up security for other members of the national soccer team. Two assistant coaches, Hernan Dario Gomez and Juan Jose Pelaez, announced Sunday they were quitting.