Rufina Amaya, 64; survivor of 1981 massacre by Salvadoran troops spoke out on the slaughter

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Rufina Amaya, 64, one of the few known survivors of a 1981 massacre by Salvadoran government troops who dedicated her life to telling others about the slaughter, died of a stroke March 6 in San Miguel, El Salvador.

Amaya lived in the village of El Mozote, one of six villages whose residents were rounded up and shot or beheaded by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers on Dec. 11, 1981.

More than 800 men, women and children were killed in what is believed to be the largest mass killing of civilians in El Salvador’s 12-year civil war.


Salvadoran and American officials at first insisted that only armed rebels had been killed, but Amaya contradicted that account in interviews published by the New York Times and Washington Post.

She cooperated with church groups and human rights activists in their investigations, which found that an atrocity has been committed.

Amaya could hear the screams of her children as she escaped the massacre. She was among the last group of women from her village being led to their deaths but managed to slip away and hide in a tree.

Most of her family was killed, including her blind husband and four children, who were 8 months to 9 years old.

She lived in caves and in the brush for a year before making her way to a refugee camp in Honduras, where she became a lay pastor and remarried.

“I was helpless to stop the murders, and for a long time after I wanted to die,” she told the Dallas Morning News in 1994. “God let me live to tell this story.”