Ecuadorean survivor of Mexico massacre: Slain migrants refused to work for Zetas drug gang

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — One of two known survivors of a drug gang's massacre in northern Mexico of 72 undocumented Central and South American migrants said in an interview broadcast Thursday that they were killed because they refused to work for the traffickers.

He also urged others not to attempt the journey to the United States.

Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, said the migrants — 76 in all — were seized after they entered Mexico from Guatemala.

He described being held one night, bound in groups of four, before the gunmen shot all the migrants.

"I'm telling everyone, Ecuadoreans, don't make the journey any more because the Zetas are killing a lot of people," Lala said, referring to the drug gang that dominates parts of Tamaulipas state, where he was found last week.

Lala, who was wounded in the neck, wore a brace and part of his face was bandaged. His speech was labored in a two-part interview broadcast by state-run GamaTV.

"There are a lot of bad people who won't let you through," he said in the interview, which was apparently recorded during his plane flight home from Mexico on Sunday.

He said the migrants, mostly male and including Ecuadoreans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and a Brazilian, were killed because they refused to work for the Zetas.

"They didn't ask us for anything but only said, 'You want to work with us?' And nobody wanted to work with them," Lala said.

He did not say what kind of work the Zetas were proposing. Mexican authorities have speculated the traffickers wanted the migrants to smuggle illegal drugs in the United States.

Ecuadorean officials have placed Lala in a witness protection program. The identity of the other survivor, a Honduran, has not been released. Lala said the Honduran escaped unscathed because he hid in bushes.

Lala said that after arriving on the northeastern Mexico coast from Guatemala by boat, he and his 76 traveling companions were traveling by vehicle when they were stopped by three cars from which eight gunmen emerged.

"They put us in a house and tied us in groups of four with hands tied behind our backs. They held us there one night," he said.

A native of the small southern Ecuadorean town of Ger who said his parents went to the United States four years ago, Lala described the killing the next day, presumably on Sunday, Aug. 22, two days before the bodies were found.

"They threw us face down ... and then I heard the sound of shooting," he said. "I heard them shoot my friends, and later they shot me."

After the massacre was over, he said, the gunmen left.

"I waited two minutes, I got up, I left the house and walked all night," he said.

Lala initially approached two men he said he encountered at a streetlight but they wouldn't help him. He said he walked and ran another 10 kilometers (six miles) until he found another group, which also refused the help.

At about 7 a.m. the next morning, he said, he encountered the Mexican marines who aided him.

Also Thursday, forensic investigators said the identity of four massacre victims thought to be Hondurans was not clear.

Of 16 bodies delivered to the Central American country, "12 have been positively identified through fingerprints, dental records, tattoos and surgical intervention, but there are doubts about four of them," said Danelia Ferrera, chief prosecutor for the Public Ministry.

Authorities were conducting further tests and comparing notes with Guatemala and El Salvador to see whether the victims may have come from those nations.

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Associated Press writer Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.