Story

Guatemala: Meeting Michael

pz_cjo-001.jpg

A view of Roosevelt Highway in Guatemala City. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-002.jpg

A wall full of posters of the disappeared (desaparecido) from the civil war at the Cementerio la Verbena in Zone 7. Archaeologists found three mass graves behind this wall containing close to 20,000 bodies. During Guatemala's 36-year civil war, about 200,000 people were killed, and another 50,000 disappeared and were buried in mass graves throughout the country. Today, archaeologists are still finding graves. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-003.jpg

Two men caught by the PNC Guatemalan police were held for extortion. Extortion is a common crime in Guatemala. One of the men took a gun from the police officer and then held him for ransom. They were later caught and put into the back of a police truck. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-004.jpg

Body bags filled with bones from the disappeared (desaparecido) are stored in a forensic room at the La Verbena Cementary in Guatemala City. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-005.jpg

Edwin Aroldo Lalimayr, 19, gets lots of assistance from his church Ministerios "Hechos" de Guatemala outside of Ciudad Mixco. They help homeless men and women who abuse drugs and alcohol by providing them with showers and meals on Sundays. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-006.jpg

A 25-year-old was caught by the PNC police for trying to extort a bus driver. The suspect sits in the back of a police pickup truck as the press and other citizens stare at him. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-007.jpg

The body of a man in his 20s who was shot and killed. Image by Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-008.jpg

After the men and women have an opportunity to take showers, get new clothes and a warm meal, Ministerios "Hechos" de Guatemala opens its doors to a Sunday full of prayer and hope. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-009.jpg

Firefighters cover the body of a man in his 20s who was killed by a town’s residents for stealing a cellphone. It is not uncommon for people in Guatemala’s marginal areas to take the law into their own hands, since they do not trust the justice system. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-010.jpg

Angel, 20, rides in the car with his friend Alex, 21. Angel and Alex are both fathers and once lived on the streets. But they're working now, thanks to the help of Carlos Toledo, who runs Our Rights (or Nuestros Derechos). Our Rights is a secular, apolitical NGO, which was created in 1992 to provide services to Guatemalan street children. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-011.jpg

Michael René Coyoy Hernandez,14, was shot six times in the body and head. The perpetrators of this crime were teenagers themselves. A witness said that they drove up to Michael on a motorcycle and opened fire on him. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

pz_cjo-012.jpg

A two-year-old baby girl lives on the streets with her mother and other street children in Guatemala. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Guatemala, 2013.

During the 36 years of the Guatemalan Civil War, more than 200,000 people died before the government and leftist rebels made peace in 1996. Since then, Guatemala has been rocked by violent drug traffickers and street gangs. With almost 6,000 Guatemalans slain each year — nearly the same annual death toll of the civil war — the Guatemalan murder rate is one of the highest in the world. The repercussions of the war continue, particularly for Guatemala’s youth.

One of these young people is a 14-year-old boy named Michael René Coyoy Hernandez. Michael was shot six times by teenage perpetrators who drove by on a motorcycle and opened fire on him.

I first encountered Michael at the crime scene. He was covered with a white plastic garbage bag. His stiff hands looked like he was trying to shield his face from the gunshots. Although he was only 14, Michael already worked as a ticket taker on the red buses in Guatemala City. His family members eventually arrived at the crime scene to claim his body and watch over him as the detectives collected evidence. It struck me that although they were devastated by the loss, they were not surprised, as he had been threatened shortly before his death. In Guatemala, violence is so endemic, even children as young as 14 are targeted.

I have photographed many crimes against teenagers, and some fade away, while others have been etched in my memory. I will always remember Michael.