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.