SANTIAGO, Chile – A scientific autopsy has confirmed that Chilean President Salvador Allende committed suicide during the 1973 coup that toppled his socialist government, court officials announced on Tuesday.
British ballistics expert David Prayer said Allende died of two shots fired from an assault rifle that was held between his legs and under his chin and was set to fire automatically. The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.
Prayer said there were two bullets fired, two casings recovered and that there is no evidence a second person was involved in Allende's death. That ruled out theories that Allende, the first socialist in the Americas to come to power at the ballot box, was killed by the military as troops stormed the presidential palace during the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Allende had said he wouldn't be taken alive even as Pinochet ordered an all-out attack on La Moneda. The palace was bombed by fighter jets and the air thick with tear gas and smoke as the building went up in flames. Allende had ordered his allies to surrender, but he stayed behind. What happened next has always been shrouded in mystery.
The deposed president's body was exhumed in May for its first authoritative autopsy as Chile's independent judiciary began a criminal investigation into the death of Allende and hundreds of other victims of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Dr. Patricio Bustos, who directs Chile's Medical Legal Service, announced the autopsy results, which he described as definitive. Ever since Allende's death, Chile's military has held that he committed suicide, while others said he died fighting. Some claimed he tried to kill himself but was only gravely wounded and was then killed by a bodyguard, who then died as well.
This autopsy supports the version of Dr. Patricio Guijon, who had been part of Allende's medical team and said he alone happened to witness the death.
Allende's daughter Isabel, now a senator, said the result is a relief because now there is scientific proof to support what the family has always believed.
"President Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973, faced with the extreme circumstances that he was living through, took the decision to end his life, rather than be humiliated," Allende said.
Before making the autopsy results public, Bustos and the autopsy team met for several hours with Judge Mario Carroza, Sen. Allende and a lawyer for the family to explain their conclusions.