TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — In a capital so dangerous that only the “walking dead” are said to venture out after dark, nothing could draw an obedient son from the safety of his parents’ suburban home into the deserted night.
Nothing, that is, but a girl.
Ebed Yanes had friended her on Facebook. They had chatted and the studious 15-year-old was desperate to meet her. “My parents are still awake,” he wrote her that Saturday night in May. “I’ll shower while they go to bed and I’ll get the keys to the motorcycle.”
What do homicide statistics mean to a high school freshman in the grip of a young crush? A murder rate of 91 per 100,000 residents may make Honduras the most violent country in the world, but to Ebed those odds weren’t grim enough to keep him home.
He crept downstairs, climbed onto his father’s motorcycle and disappeared into the dark in search of the girl.
He never found her. “I don’t know where you are,” he texted. “I’ve been looking for 45 minutes but now I better get back before the soldiers catch me.”
Police are so chronically outgunned by the criminals that the government had declared a state of emergency, allowing the army to patrol the streets. At this late hour, soldiers would have set up a roadblock. Ebed wasn’t carrying the motorcycle registration, and he didn’t want to be stopped, caught sneaking out of the house despite everything his father had taught him.
Honduras is a broken country. The political system is so weak that just three years ago the president was ousted in a coup carried out by the army and endorsed by the Supreme Court. Poverty is second only to Haiti’s in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated three quarters of the cocaine flown from South America to the United States passes through this Central American country, the epicenter of the U.S. government’s war on drug trafficking. The violence, according to the World Health Organization, is “epidemic.”
Ebed knew he lived in a perilous country. But there was this lovely girl, and he so wanted to meet her. It was just one night. It was spring. He was young.
And by 1:30 a.m., he was dead, slumped over his father’s motorcycle with a bullet to the back of his head.
The Yanes family lives in a secure gated community on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. Every Sunday, before going to church, Ebed’s job was to wash the car for his father, an organic food supplier.
But that Sunday, Wilfredo Yanes, 57, noticed that his car was still dirty. Ebed was not in bed, nor anywhere to be found. The motorcycle was missing.
Wilfredo’s boy was playful, fond of girls, easily distracted, but he did not get into trouble. He never left the house alone, had never taken public transportation and didn’t know his way about the city. Even when he went to Tae Kwon Do lessons, his older sister waited for him in the car for two hours, studying for her medical school classes.
It was hard to imagine what could have happened to him.