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Refugee Stories: This Girl is Dead

The plight of refugees and migrants from South America grows more drastic and their fate more uncertain. Refugee Stories are testimonies from children, adults, and families, gathered by the Salvadorean Lutheran Church, our companion synod in El Salvador, and CARECEN, an organization working to change the immigration system, win legal status for immigrants, and foster community activism. These stories are a tool and a witness for Refugee and Migrant Sunday and beyond; please share them with your congregations and ministries.

The girl is dead.

She’s 15 years old and her name is Marcela. Witnesses say she was executed by a gang member. We can’t see her face. All we can see is her plaid pants and gray T-shirt.

Her family is across the street in a pickup truck. We can’t tell you their names because it would put them in danger. Marcela’s mother is too upset to talk, so we talked to her grandmother. She says Marcela left the house that morning with her sister. The two worked in downtown San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador, making tortillas.

The grandmother tells us that Marcela’s boyfriend was a bus driver in a gang-controlled neighborhood. First, he got threats. “Help the gang or we’ll kill you.” Then he disappeared. Then Marcela started getting threats.

And now this: Marcela’s body, lying on the ground, while people drive to work. We find the police investigator on the case. He says Marcela was attacked from behind and shot twice in the head. He says Marcela’s sister witnessed the killing. She’s now in police protection. We ask him why a gang member would kill a 15-year-old girl. He speculates that it’s because she didn’t want to be someone’s girlfriend or didn’t want to do something for that gang.

Is this normal, we ask? Does it happen to young women a lot? It happens every day, he says.

The police later release Marcela’s sister from their protection, even though local reporters tell us the gangs will probably go after her now. The family tells us their only option is to leave the country, ideally for the U.S. But they’ve got about $200 to their name.

It’s not nearly enough to pay a smuggler.