Anguished Mourners Beg for Answers After Jail Fire in Venezuela

Family members who rushed to the overcrowded jail at news of the fire on Thursday were sprayed with tear gas by security forces, adding outrage to the inexplicable.

By late afternoon on Friday, the cemetery was a hodgepodge of grief, rage and the smell of putrefying bodies.

Neillin Villegas, 20, burned to death. She had been visiting her jailed brother, Angelo Villegas, who also died. Her simple thin-wood coffin, surrounded by flies, was carried by relatives and left in the middle of the cemetery, close to trenches waiting to be filled.

Anguished Mourners Beg for Answers After Jail Fire in Venezuela
Anguished Mourners Beg for Answers After Jail Fire in Venezuela

Not even her own grandmother could breathe without covering her nose.

Beside her, a small boy, one of Neillin’s two young children, played with the dirt. “Is Neillin dead?” he asked. “Yes,” answered the grandmother.

She was buried on top of other two coffins. Men wearing jeans and boots, sweating, grabbed her coffin with two ropes to lower it.

“Who will I take to parties now?” cried a mourner. “It’s not fair! No one told us she was dead. I couldn’t see her. God, why?”

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The men who had lowered Ms. Villegas’s coffin filled two buckets with concrete. They used a spatula to spread it on top.

“She is the last one that fits here,” said one man, who called himself Pepe. “A couple more and we can go home and eat.”

Pepe said he had buried 28 people on Friday.

He had a small sheet of paper with names written in pen with him. “She is the only woman I have here,” he said.


A relative cried over a coffin with the remains of Alirio Durán, 25.Credit Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

Closer to the entrance, family and friends of Eduardo Hernández, 20, gathered around his grave as it was sealed with concrete by a man wearing a T-shirt with the name of Gov. Rafael Lacava of Carabobo State, one of the few officials who expressed remorse over the fire and promised an investigation.

Mr. Hernández’s mother, Jennifer Petit, 40, described him as a soccer lover and a good student. But somewhere along the way, he committed a crime and ended up in a small jail cell with 10 others.

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