Monday, January 6, 2014

A Christmas Eve to Remember (2013)

A Christmas Eve to Remember
E. Quiroa handcuffed for self defense
And handcuffed to each other!

Victims are at fault in Ecuador!
After cooking all day on December 23rd with Christmas music playing in the background, we welcomed the Calderon Zone for the last of seven zone dinners in the mission home.  It is no small feat to prepare food for over 30 hungry missionaries as well as provide an uplifting and fun evening, but we were pleased with the outcome.  After an evening of eating, laughter, caroling, and testimony, the last of the zone took the elevator downstairs at about 10:45 p.m.  President, the assistants and I were about to collapse when the phone interrupted our anticipated relaxation.

From a distance I heard the words, “pelea” (fight) and could tell that missionaries had been involved in something serious, but it took some patience to figure out what the hysterical Hermana Torres was trying to communicate over the cell phone.  Elder Ospina took the phone and by his expression, we knew there was serious trouble.  Yet all we really knew when he hung up the phone was that our missionaries had been in a fight when attempting to help a member, were seriously injured, being held by police, and that we needed to get to them as quickly as possible.  We gathered some food and extra blankets and drove the eerily quiet Quito streets to the Flagrancia Police station, where we found the office secretaries standing next to a white police truck, where our injured missionaries, as well as Brother Torres, were sitting in the back seat of the vehicle. 

Elder Figueroa’s black and blue eye looked especially puffy above his swollen cheek bone.  I caressed his head and felt ping pong size bumps all over this skull.  Elder Quiroa had a lacerated hand and Brother Torres had a fractured nose.  They looked bewildered, cold, and in pain.  We handed them the food and blankets through the open window while attempting to comfort them.  We kept our eyes on the opposite side of the dark and quiet street where we learned three of the five perpetrators were being held in the back of another police truck, but the happenings of the evening were revealed over the course of the next several hours.
Smiles through the pain that they are going to get out of jail!
Apparently, the fight erupted when a glass worker came to be paid for a job he had done in the Torres’ home.  Instead of paying him the remaining $100, they said he needed to finish the job (which would have taken 20 minutes); incensed, he punched Brother Torres in the nose.  The Elders, who were having dinner inside with some investigators, ran outside to stop the fight.  

They were successful, but the infuriated worker jumped in his truck and threatened to come back with police.  Thus, they were surprised when instead of police, five 20-30 year old men jumped out of the truck and began beating them with baseball bats, metal pipes, as well as throwing glass.  Sister Torres ran out of her home crying and begging them to stop, while her daughter called the police, who came and arrested all involved. By the time we heard about the altercation, a couple hours had passed and were being held outside the police station.

After standing next to the idling toxic (diesel) police truck until well past Midnight, we plead for permission to take the elders to Hospital Metropolitano, the best hospital in the city.  To our great relief, Official Wilson, one of the police officers who first responded to the fight, worked out the details so that we could transport them as long as he went with us in his bright yellow police vest.  The rest of the evening was a blur as we drove and kept watch over the patients. 

By 6:30 a.m. Elder Figueroa had awakened from his anesthetic, under which doctors had reattached his shoulder, and was thus summoned back to the police station.  Wilson transported him in his police truck, while we went in search of something warm for them to eat.  We purchased four beef empanadas and yogurt, which we took back with us to the station.  After searching up and down corridors and floors, we finally found the Policeman Wilson who (after being offered food) allowed Brian to descend to the dirty, cold and dark first floor holding cell where our poor injured missionaries were being held like prisoners along with those who had nearly left them for dead.  Brother Torres wept when offered warm food to eat.

Elder Ospina, who went down later, said it was impressive to see the perpetrators with downcast eyes, shame and freezing cold in the same room with the elders who had blankets, warm food, and the peace of knowing they had done nothing wrong.   He said he imagined it being akin to the Spirit World.

At 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, they were granted a hearing.  They were brought into the court room hand cuffed in pairs, including Brother Torres who was cuffed to the very worker who had broken his nose.  We expected to see anger, and hostility, and thus greatly surprised to see them smiling at each other like long lost friends.   Later we learned that at least one of them expressed an interest in learning about the gospel.

The court agreed to a plea deal where the victims only received $500, but at least they wouldn't have a criminal record!
Because of the Ecuadorian laws, the Elders (El Salvador and Honduras) would have had life time  criminal records in Ecuador had they contested, so they all agreed to a plea deal where the perpetrators would pay only $500 for their crime, and by 9:00 p.m. they were signing the agreement, and their handcuffs (esposas!) unlocked.

They joined the office elders at our home that evening for a delicious Christmas Eve dinner.  Though their eyes were straining with exhaustion from lack of sleep, pain, and trauma, they were very grateful, as were we that they were now free from a terrifying ordeal.
Tired and hungry after a long ordeal, we enjoy a delicious Christmas Eve dinner and program in the mission home.

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