Described as a queen of Mayan beauty, María José Alvarado had big ambitions. When she was elected Miss Honduras seven months ago, she said she had aspirations of a career in government, specifically as a diplomat for her country.
“My name is María José Alvarado, and I proudly represent the heart of Central America: Honduras!” she wrote on the Miss World website. Before she was allegedly shot by her sister’s boyfriend, she had planned to be in London this week to start preparing for the beauty pageant, which takes place on Dec. 14.
Her body was found buried in a river bank with two bullets in her back, according to local reports. Next to her was her big sister Sofia, 23, who had a gunshot to the head.
Honduras National Police director said Wednesday that Sofia's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, confessed to killing the sisters and led authorities to the bodies buried near the spa where they disappeared six days ago.
They had gone Thursday to the spa, called La Aguagua, to celebrate Ruiz's birthday.
“We are devastated by this terrible loss of two young women, who were so full of life,” said Miss World Chairman Julia Morley in a message posted on the site. “We will be holding a special service with all of the Miss World contestants on Sunday, where we will be honoring the lives of María José Alvarado and Sofía Trinidad, and say prayers for them and their family,” she added.
María José, 19, was the youngest of three sisters. She was born and raised in Santa Barbara, some 200 miles west of Tegucigalpa. Two years ago she was a finalist in Miss Teen Honduras, and in August she also attempted to become Miss Costa Maya.
She was in the final stretches of getting a computer degree from a school in Tegucigalpa, but she had taken her new role as a beauty queen seriously — pageant winners are very popular in many parts of Latin America, where they are viewed as celebrities and often go on to become entertainers after serving as a kind of ambassador for their country.
“Our ethnic groups like the Tawakas, Lencas, Pech, Garifunas and Misquitos have made of Honduras a country with a cultural diversity rich in customs, gastronomy and religious beliefs. For this and more I encourage you to make of Honduras a travel destination, the best is yet to come!"
Alvarado had also worked as a model on a variety show directed by the former presidential candidate, Salvador Nasrallah. He said he was very saddened by the news.
"A lot of girls die this way, but because they're not famous, it doesn't get the attention and the crimes go unpunished," Nasrallah said. "She was a girl of good principles who fell into a trap, a game with guns, and ended up a victim of a violent system."
Even when in the South American country homicides and kidnaps are often related to gangs, the oldest and older surviving sister denied any such link, according to the Independent.
“I want the world to know that they are good people and they always thought others were like them,” she told the British paper. “They were honest and happy and trusting.”
Honduras, overrun with streets gangs and drug trafficking, has the highest murder rate in the world for a country not at war, with an estimated 90 to 95 killings per 100,000 people. It is one of Latin America's poorest countries and earlier this year was the main source of a surge in unaccompanied minors migrating to the United States, many to escape the violence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.