Saturday, December 15, 2007


Noah, our friend and co-worker in El Salvador, was staying with us. He got a call on his cell phone around 11PM on Monday, November 19. I was in the room, and I could tell it was something serious. Cain, who works with Noah in rural Usulután, called to tell Noah that Cain’s son-in-law, Dani, had been shot. Dani and his compañera, Cain´s daughter Carolina, were members of my youth group at church and lived in the neighborhood. She 18, he 21; they had had a baby five months prior.

When Noah told me that Cain´s son-in-law had been shot, I stayed calm and just asked if he was alright. “They’re operating on him in the hospital in the neighborhood.” It took me that long in my fuzzy post-partum mind to make the connection between “Cain’s son-in-law” and Dani. But I still didn’t freak out. Noah was raging about the violence and the randomness and the injustice, Vince was listening sobered; I lit a candle to leave burning, made Noah and Vince pray with me, and went to bed. I felt like everything was going to be alright.

By the next morning we learned that Dani was in a coma, had been transferred to the hospital in Zacamil, over an hour away, and was to be operated on again. By mid-morning he had been transferred a third time to the large public Hospital Rosales in the Centro for surgery. After several calls from Cain, Noah decided to get on a bus to Rosales, about ten blocks from our apartment, to offer some moral support to the family. I decided to go with him.

There was a long line of people waiting with little pieces of paper to get in for visiting hours, but Noah and I, either because of our invisible “gringo pass” or because the gate guard knew the situation was dire, were let right in. We hurried through the tropical landscaped grounds of the hospital, passing open buildings which felt like odd crosses between Victorian wards and military barracks. We finally found the surgery unit, one of the few new buildings on the campus, and were again let quickly through a guarded gate. In the hallway beyond a closed door we found the priest who works with Noah and Cain and several women surrounding Dani’s mother, who was seated and sobbing. We had arrived moments after Dani died on the operating table.

The priest told us that Cain and Carol were outside and could probably use some support. I sat with Carol for two hours after she found out her life partner was dead. I sat with her on the sidewalk, backed up against the wall of the hospital, her baby playing with an older woman a few feet away. I sat with her in the car on the way to her parent’s house, and on the sofa. These are some of the things that she said...

“It’s not true, it’s not true. Dani’s not dead. He’s not dead.”
“My love why? Why? Don’t leave me! Fight! Fight for your son!”
“I love you, Dani, I love you, I love you, I love you...”
“O God, don’t take him away from me!”
“He wanted to marry me.”
“He loved my baby so much.”
“God please take care of him for me, wherever he is.”
“I know he’ll watch over us.”
“I’ll take care of our baby for you, I’ll be his mother and father.”

At the funeral the next day Carolina read a reading. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met.

After the service I dropped Vince and Jacob off at home and caught up with the funeral procession going out to the cemetery for the burial. It’s a lovely, grassy place in the hills above the city, with trees. Out of everything, the burial was the hardest part. The youth from the church, his friends, sang a song about having lost the best one. Irma, the diocesan youth leader, spoke about the youth needing to carry on in his footsteps—those of a humble, gentle, genuine, and good person. Cain spoke eloquently. Dani’s mother thanked everyone for their support. And Carol spoke, and sang a love song over her boyfriend of 7 years’ casket. Even small children were crying as she sang.

I have often thought that Salvadorans get melodramatic at interments, sobbing and wailing over caskets as they are lowered into the ground. The cries that day were real, and they were the most gut-wrenching sounds I have ever heard. Noah said afterwards, “I never want to hear anyone scream like that again.”

I need to tell you why Dani died. He was killed purportedly by a 13-year-old, who was given a gun by the gang in our neighborhood and told to stake out Dani’s mother’s house and wait for his brother. Dani’s brother, a taxi driver like he was, had allegedly refused the gang members a ride at 2AM to commit a drive-by shooting in enemy territory several weeks before. The 13-year-old needed to kill someone in order to become a fully fledged marero, gang member. If he had come back without having murdered, he would have been beaten or killed by the gang. So he shot the first person that drove a taxi up to their mother’s house and got out. Dani was shot on his mother’s doorstep—she saw him shot from within. And Carol and their five-month-old son witnessed the shooting as well; they were sitting in the taxi.

Days after the funeral Carolina and Dani’s families both moved permanently out of the neighborhood where they had grown up. It is not safe for them to go back.

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