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On May 7th, police in El Salvador discovered a mass grave of bodies in a former policeman’s property. Police believe the mass grave holds up to 40 bodies–almost all of them women. Authorities arrested nine suspects whom they believe were part of a “murder ring targeting women.”

The man behind the murders is 51-year-old Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chávez. Authorities discovered his “house of horrors” after the neighbors called the police when they heard the screams of a young woman.

When the authorities arrived, the victim, as well as her mother, were already dead. Now, authorities are spending their time digging up what feels like endless amounts of dead bodies.

“We don’t know at this time how many more bodies we have in this house,” said district attorney Max Muñoz in a statement. “So far, we are still only working in the pit.” Among the corpses found so far, three were children aged two, seven and nine.

Police say that Chávez lured women to his home by promising them the chance of finding work in Mexico.

“The victims we have in this case were sexually assaulted,” said other district attorney Graciela Sagastume. “Therefore, the central axis of the investigation is sexual violence as a tool for gender violence.”

While the government is trying to portray him as a lone, psychopathic serial killer, the public has a different opinion. Salvadorans see this tragedy as a part of the larger femicide epidemic devastating their country.

El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. In 2020 alone, 541 Salvadoran women disappeared. Keep in mind, El Salvador’s population is only 6.7 million–roughly the same population as the state of Maryland.

The nine other suspects arrested in connection to the murders were also former police and the military officials. Their involvement with the murders has simply caused the public to further distrust the authorities.

“The serial killer of women in Chalchuapa is not an isolated incident,” said anti-femicide activist Morena Herrera. “It is an incident rooted in two factors: society’s permissiveness towards violence against women and institutional complicity. El Salvador’s institutions care very little about the lives of women – and I’m not just talking about the police.”