Police in Guatemala storm juvenile center, free guards

Police in Guatemala storm juvenile center, free guards

Riot police agents are pictured after the operation to rescue the four hostages kept held by inmates at the Stage II Male Juvenile Detention Center in San Jose Pinula, east of Guatemala City, on Monday. — AFP

SAN JOSÉ PINULA, Guatemala — Guatemalan police stormed a juvenile detention center on Monday and freed four guards taken hostage by inmates who killed two others during a riot over what they called harsh treatment.

But one of the hostages died soon thereafter of injuries suffered during the ordeal, which started around midday Sunday. Authorities said he had been beaten severely and stabbed.

Two other freed captives have head injuries, said a spokesman for the fire department, Mario Cruz.

Journalists outside the Stage II facility for boys in San Jose Pinula, just to the east of Guatemala City, saw dozens of armed officers rush inside the blue-and-white building surrounded by barbed wire fences, while others took positions on the roof. Yells and detonations were heard from inside during the raid.

President Jimmy Morales later tweeted: “Thanks to God and to the quick and efficient action of our @PNCdeGuatemala” (Guatemala’s national police force).

The scene unfolded less than two weeks after 40 teenage girls died in a fire at a nearby overcrowded youth shelter in the same town.

Officials earlier said two security guards at the Stage II center were killed and five were injured by the inmates. One of those five was released early Monday and taken to a hospital.

Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for the national police, said that negotiations to free the remaining four guards taken hostage had broken down. And that is when the police moved in.

The Guatemalan prosecutor’s office for human rights said about 40 members of the feared Barrio 18 street gang had led the revolt in the Stage II juvenile center. It said the riot started after a visit by other members of the gang. The facility is supposed to house minors, but of 56 known gang members, 39 are adults, said Vladimir Lopez, deputy minister of the social welfare ministry. Fire fighters put out a blaze that had started in part of the facility.