SUMPANGO, Guatemala – A mob burned a man and a woman to death on Wednesday after accusing them of several child abductions in this predominantly Mayan town, where residents have long claimed youngsters are snatched and the police do nothing.
Police dared not approach the mob of some 800 people surrounding the smoking bodies, which reeked of gasoline. Human rights officials and police were trying to question residents, but no one was talking, said Isidro Ramos, a police spokesman.
Jorge Luis Gil, a resident of the town, said the church bells were rung to alert people that the man and woman suspected in numerous abductions had been found.
"When the alarm sounded today, the people went mad," Gil said. "The police captured them when the people started screaming that they had stolen a boy and the mob went to get them where they were being held."
He said the mob beat the man and woman before setting them on fire.
"They hit them until they were left unconscious and after that they set them on fire," he said.
Gil said the two had abducted children from the community before and the police had even distributed flyers warning residents to watch for kidnappers.
Hours after the killings, residents tried to push past police in an apparent attempt to attack the home of the mayor and a local courthouse in this town 22 miles west of Guatemala City.
"I just spoke with a police director whose in charge and he said that officers had to beat the people back," Ramos said.
Ramos said kidnapping is a significant problem in Sumpango and neighboring communities, although it was not immediately clear why. Last fall, residents in Sumpango rioted and burned down the police station claiming authorities were not doing enough to protect their children.
Crowds frequently take justice into their own hands throughout Guatemala, where officials estimate more than 300 people, including several foreign tourists, have been killed in acts of vigilante justice since 1996.