The massacre at El Mozote – “There was black smoke everywhere from the burning bodies”


Tony’s pilgrimage takes him to El Mozote, the site of terrible violence in the Salvadoran civil war:

Tuesday, 19 November

Today we travelled to the beautiful countryside in the east of the country and visited El Mozote, site of a terrible massacre during the Civil War. We started the day with a beautiful open air Mass at 7am with a backdrop of the countryside. Fr Jim referred to Joseph of Arimathea’s bravery in asking the authorities for the body of the crucified Christ, and compared it to the bravery of Maria Julia Hernandez, founder of the legal aid office “Tutela Legal”, who regularly went to the authorities to request the bodies of the disappeared.


We are accompanied by a Chigwell Sister, Sr Anne Griffin, who told us about the history of El Mozote and the events of 7th – 14th December 1981. During that week the army arrived in El Mozete and surrounding villages, which were mainly populated by Evangelical Christians who were quite distant from the political struggle. The military General spoke to the pastor of the community and advised him that there was to be a military operation in the area and it would be safer for the community if they could gather in El Mozote. The community trusted their pastor’s advice and over 1000 families gathered in the town centre. The Military then performed a series of awful acts.

Firstly, they gathered all the young women and pretty teenage girls and took them to the hillside, where they were first raped and then murdered. Then they rounded up all the children of the village in the church, which they set alight with dynamite. Then they started to behead some of the men. It was only when this was taking a long time that they decided to shoot them. They rounded up the remaining women in a room throwing them on the ground and shooting them. One of the women, Rufina Amata, survived the shooting and lay amongst the dead bodies pretending to be dead. Eventually she crawled naked across farmland, hiding amongst the animals and dead bodies.

Days later Rufina arrived at the Tutela Legal to report the crimes to Maria Julia Hernandez. The Tutela Legal made representations to the authorities who denied that such a massacre had taken place and said that Rufina, at the time the only known survivor, must be deranged. The Massacre took the lives of over a 1000 people, including over 400 Children, whose bodies were uncovered in the years that followed.


A photograph of Rufina Amata, a survivor of the massacre.

A photograph of Rufina Amata, a survivor of the massacre.

We were welcomed to El Mozote by a woman named Dorilla, who was another survivor of the Massacre and was the first woman to give her testimony. She said:

“Welcome to this sacred place, where more than 1000 Campesinos were murdered. I lost my mother and father, my sister who was pregnant. My 7 year old brother, my nephew and my neice. Five members of my husband’s family were also killed, as were many of my friends. Our family survived because the soldiers did not find us in our house.”

In tears she continued:

“But we saw what happened. We saw the burning bodies and smelt the roasting flesh. I prayed to God that his will be done. I hid with my husband and Child and saw killing all around us. We saw our next door neighbours house burned down, with the family inside. We then crawled out across a field thinking it was too dangerous to stay. During this time my son was shot in the leg but thank God the wound wasn’t fatal and he survived. There was black smoke everywhere from the burning bodies.”


We stop for silent prayer in the Rose Garden followed by Fr Jim O’Keefe leading us in a decade of the Rosary ‘The Agony in the Garden’.

Read more from Tony’s pilgrimage to El Salvador:

One thought on “The massacre at El Mozote – “There was black smoke everywhere from the burning bodies”

  1. What a terrible story, so many martyrs. And now the Archbishop has closed what was a vital legal aid office, Tutela Legal, part of Archbishop Romero’s legacy. Tony, thank you for keeping their memory alive.

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