Attackers stormed one of Guatemala’s largest hospitals with guns blazing Wednesday to free an imprisoned gang member, officials said. At least seven people were killed and five were arrested.
Carlos Soto, director of Roosevelt Hospital in the capital, said an unknown number of gunmen entered the facility in the morning and began shooting. The jailed suspect, who had been taken to the hospital for lab tests, disappeared during the chaos.
Deputy hospital director Marco Antonio Barrientos told reporters that 12 people were wounded, including a child who underwent surgery and was in critical condition.
“The law doesn’t consider it, but they are acts of terrorism,” President Jimmy Morales said at a news conference. He said he would send police and soldiers to bolster security at hospitals.
National Civil Police said the five men in custody were members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. Via Twitter, the agency showed photographs of assault rifles seized from the attackers.
Astrid Villatoro was at the hospital waiting for her son to get an X-ray when the gunfire broke out.
“You heard a lot of shots,” Villatoro said. “I was in the emergency room when I felt a stray bullet hit my foot. I saw a man hit in the face by another bullet. It was terrible. Everyone ran for cover.”
A body lay in the parking lot outside afterward covered with a plastic sheet, next to an assault rifle and blood drying on the pavement.
Police spokesman Jorge Aguilar said there were at least six deaths and five arrests. The hospital later raised the death toll to seven. Officers searched the hospital room by room.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the attack was staged to free a gang member identified as Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes.
“We believe he is the leader of a gang cell,” Aguilar said.
Cabrera, 29, who was not listed among the people in custody, had been brought to the hospital by three guards from prison on a judge’s order. Two of his guards were killed and one was wounded, according to a statement from the prison system.
Without sharing details, Barrientos said it was not the first time such an incident had occurred at the hospital, though none had been so deadly. The hospital had asked the government for additional security, Barrientos said.