GUALJOCO, Honduras (AP) — Grieving family members laid to rest a beauty queen and her sister amid drenching rains Thursday, pleading for divine justice after the women were shot to death in what police say was a jealous rage by the sister's boyfriend.
Miss Honduras, 19-year-old Maria Jose Alvarado, and her sister Sofia, 23, were interred in two cement graves at a tiny cemetery in this hamlet north of their hometown of Santa Barbara. About 300 people, including mourners and security forces, trudged through the mud for the ceremony.
The 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 caskets adorned with flowers. Maria Jose's coffin was also draped with her beauty queen sash.
"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 deserve."
She remembered Maria Jose Alvarado, who was supposed to travel to London this week for the Miss World beauty pageant, as a woman who represented the best of Honduras. Pageant organizers issued a statement saying they were devastated and planned a special service Sunday to remember the sisters and pray for the family.
Friends and family said Alvarado had a lifelong fascination with beauty and fashion and began competing in pageants at age 13. She won one after another all the way until she was named Miss Honduras in April, after which she began modeling for clothing stores and catalogs.
But Alvarado was not caught up in the celebrity of her crown, often going around town in jeans with her hair up and no makeup. 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 in the killings, including Plutarco Ruiz, a man who family members said was courting Sofia, and a purported accomplice who allegedly helped bury the bodies on a remote river bank. The couple who owned the spa where the sisters disappeared the night of Nov. 13 were taken into custody Wednesday on suspicion of illegal detention and concealment.
Police say 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 shot Maria Jose twice in the back as she tried to flee.
Lt. Col. 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," Castillo 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, fueled by crime, poverty, male chauvinism and domestic abuse. According to the United Nations, slayings of women and girls in Honduras increased 263 percent 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 organized crime, it's because they control everything," the mayor said. "Because everyone fears them, and the military and police don't do anything. Everyone knows who they are."