Colombian Held in Deaths of 140 Children
A man who posed as a monk or charity worker to gain the confidence of his young victims has confessed to torturing, raping and murdering about 140 children during a five-year, nationwide killing spree in Colombia, authorities said Friday.
The confession appears to end an investigation into serial killings that have shocked this nation, despite Colombians’ frequent exposure to massacres linked to a prolonged civil war and to slayings related to the illegal drug trade. Sex crimes and large-scale killings with no political motive are nearly unknown here.
“There is no precedent for this in Colombia,” chief prosecutor Alfonso Gomez Mendez said at a news conference here Friday. “Luis Alfredo Garavito has admitted to the murders of about 140 children. Of those, we so far have found 114 skeletons. . . . We are still investigating the disappearances of other children.”
He asked that relatives of missing children report the disappearances to police. The bodies found so far are mainly those of boys ages 6 through 16 whose throats had been slit and who were bound with nylon cord.
The bodies have been found on the outskirts of more than 60 towns in 11 of the country’s 32 provinces, Gomez Mendez said.
Garavito, 42, told investigators that he would bind his victims after he had been drinking heavily. However, in a seemingly contradictory statement, he acknowledged that he met many of the children by posing as a monk or representative of fictitious foundations for the elderly or youngsters, which allowed him to obtain admission to schools as a speaker.
He also sometimes pretended to be a disabled person or a street vendor in order to make contact with street children, Gomez Mendez said. Garavito often offered potential victims money or a drink to gain their confidence, then invited them for a walk, according to the prosecutor.
Garavito’s confession confirms the findings of an investigation carried out by a nationwide task force formed almost two years ago, after the bodies of 36 boys ages 8 through 16 were found in two clandestine cemeteries in Pereira, a city in the heart of Colombia’s normally sedate coffee-growing country.
At first, the killings were widely thought to be the ritual sacrifices of a satanic cult, because of the mutilations. As the task force members discussed the crimes with local police, they learned of similar slayings and discovered that authorities in the north-central city of Tunja had issued an arrest warrant for Garavito for the 1996 murder of a child.
Then, a man named Pedro Pechuga was arrested in April on suspicion of rape in the eastern plains city of Villavicencio. In a search of apartments belonging to the suspect’s girlfriend and another friend, police found newspaper clippings about various slayings of children, Gomez Mendez said.
Through photographs, police identified Pechuga as Garavito. After six months in prison, he confessed and said he had been abused as a child, Gomez Mendez said.
He admitted to slayings beginning five years ago, according to the prosecutor. During that time, he moved around Colombia and also lived in neighboring Ecuador, where authorities have been alerted and are looking for evidence that children there have been slain.
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