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At least 7 people were killed and another 12 were injured on August 16th when attackers stormed the halls of Roosevelt Hospital in the capital of Guatemala. The gunmen entered the hospital carrying assault rifles and open fired just outside the emergency room area. The attackers killed two guards, two hospital workers, a bystander and two children. One child that was injured was in critical condition and had just undergone surgery. The attack is suspected to be an attempt to free a prisoner who was at the hospital for testing at the time. The National Police have arrested five suspected gunmen, but the prisoner still remains at large.
One woman, who was at the hospital waiting for her son to get an X-ray said in an interview with the National Post, “you heard lots of shots. I was in the emergency room when I felt a stray bullet hit my foot. I saw a man hit in the face by another bullet. It was terrible. Everyone ran for cover.” The attack left patients and hospital staff in a state of panic as they tried to flee the building, some even in crutches, stretchers and wheelchairs. The police searched the blood-stained corridors and bullet punctured walls for the attackers and the prisoner. At one point during the attack, the maternity ward was surrounded by at least 50 police officers after they had been informed that was where the fugitive was hiding according to BBC News. As it turned out, the man in question was merely there to visit his wife who had just given birth.
The attackers are believed to be members of the Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang, also known as MS-13, who were trying to free one of their jailed leaders that was at the hospital to undergo medical testing. The Interior Ministry claims that the attack was a diversion aimed to free Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes, who was serving a sentence for murder since 2013 and is believed to be the leader of a local MS-13 cell. Cabrera, who had been brought to Roosevelt Hospital by three guards from prison, is currently not among the list of people in custody. Two of his three guards were shot and killed during the events and the other was wounded according to the National Post.
Guatemala, like its neighbouring countries of El Salvador and Honduras, struggles with gang violence, especially from MS-13. MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, California by Salvadoran immigrants and later spread through Central America to their home countries.
Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales stated that after this attack he would be sending police and soldiers as added security at hospitals. The Roosevelt hospital has asked for the government to provide such additional security in the past, for this is not the first time an incident of this nature has occurred according to deputy hospital director Marco Antonio Barrientos. President Morales has also asked judges to stop sending convicted criminals to hospitals for testing and instead have mobile clinics at the prisons to deal with the inmate’s medical needs on site. These strategies suggested by Morales take a step in the right direction to ensure the safety of patients, their families and hospital staff. By eliminating the transport of dangerous criminals to open public locations and increasing security measures, it can reduce the risk of innocent people getting caught in the crossfires.