May 25, 2012

What Happened at Dos Erres

In 1982, the Guatemalan military massacred the villagers of Dos Erres, killing more than 200 people. Thirty years later, a Guatemalan living in the US got a phone call from a woman who told him that two boys had been abducted during the massacre — and he was one of them.

Members of the elite special forces that committed the massacre at Dos Erres. This photo was likely taken during training by Lieutenant Oscar Ramirez Ramos, who was one of the commanders during the massacre.

This story was co-reported with Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica, Ana Arana of Fundación MEPI, independent journalist Habiba Nosheen and This American Life producer Brian Reed. Their essay, “Finding Oscar,” can be read at ProPublica. The essay is also included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, compiled by Dave Eggers.

Annie Correal helped with research and translations.


Ira tells the story of how Oscar Ramirez, a Guatemalan immigrant living near Boston, got a phone call with some very strange news about his past. A public prosecutor from Guatemala told Oscar that when he was three years old, he may have been abducted from a massacre at a village called Dos Erres. Ira also talks to Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, about the Guatemalan military's scorched earth campaign, which was going on when the massacre at Dos Erres happened. (4 minutes)

Act One

Act One

Reporter Habiba Nosheen tells the story of how investigators first heard of human remains at Dos Erres, and how they discovered what the Guatemalan military did there. (28 minutes)

Act Two

Act Two

Habiba's story continues. Nearly 16 years after investigators first started looking into the Dos Erres massacre, a prosecutor tracks down Oscar and asks him to take a DNA test to see if he is a survivor. But they find out much more. (25 minutes)

Photos from Matthew Healey for ProPublica and Alex Cruz/El Periodico de Guatemala: