Grieving family members held the funeral of a Honduran beauty queen and her sister in pouring rain today, pleading for divine justice after the women were shot dead in what police said was a jealous rage by the sister's boyfriend.
Miss Honduras, 19-year-old Maria Jose Alvarado, and her sister Sofia, 23, were buried in two cement graves in a tiny cemetery in the hamlet of Gualjoco, north of their home town of Santa Barbara. About 300 people including mourners and security forces trudged through the mud for the ceremony.
Their bodies had been delivered to the family home before dawn, but a sustained downpour prevented the graves from being dug for hours. Their mother wept as she kissed the two closed coffins.
"We are going to miss you; you will live in our hearts forever. You have gone to reunite with our father in heaven. He awaits you and will care for you there," said 26-year-old Corina Alvarado, the victims' elder sister. "Only God can punish those killers as they deserved."
She remembered Maria Jose, who was supposed to travel to London this week for the Miss World beauty pageant, as a woman who represented the best of Honduras. Contest organisers issued a statement saying they were devastated, and planned a special service on Sunday to remember the sisters and pray for the family.
Friends and family said Ms Alvarado had a life-long fascination with beauty and fashion and began competing in pageants at the age of 13. She won one after another until she was named Miss Honduras in April, after which she began modelling for clothing stores and catalogues.
But she was not caught up in the celebrity of her crown, often going around town in jeans with her hair up and no make-up. Friends and family described her as humble and kind, and excited by the life that being a beauty queen afforded.
Four people have been arrested over the killings including Plutarco Ruiz, a man who family members said was courting Sofia, and a purported accomplice who allegedly helped bury the bodies along a remote river bank. The couple who owned the spa where the sisters disappeared the night of November 13 were taken into custody yesterday on suspicion of illegal detention and concealment.
Police have said Ruiz confessed to killing the sisters during a heated argument with Sofia after she danced with another man. He allegedly shot her first, and then Maria Jose twice in the back as she tried to flee.
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Castillo, a top law enforcement officer in Santa Barbara, said eight more people were at the gathering at the spa that night, and more arrest warrants were expected.
"The two original detainees had help from other people," he said.
The mayor of Santa Barbara arranged for two plastic tents to shelter mourners from the rain outside the Alvarados' home, nestled along an unpaved road in western Honduras. TV cameras crowded around the house.
"This is going to put an end to the normal life of the town. It means the end of freedom for young women," said Mayor Juan Alvarado, who is not related to the family. "Parents are not going to let them leave home on their own anymore. The image of Santa Barbara and of Honduras has been stained forever by this horrible crime."
The killings highlight what experts call an alarming trend of increased violence against women in Central America, fuelled by crime, poverty, male chauvinism and domestic abuse. According to the United Nations, murders of women and girls in Honduras increased 263% between 2005 and 2013.
The country has the world's highest homicide rate for a nation not at war, with an estimated 90 to 95 killings per 100,000 people. Street gangs and drug traffickers are the de-facto authorities in many areas, enforcing their will through violence, fear and extortion.
"If nobody here reacts against organised crime, it's because they control everything," said Mayor Alvarado. "Because everyone fears them, and the military and police don't do anything. Everyone knows who they are."