National police began making arrests Wednesday in the lynching deaths of two men and a woman who were dragged from the Posorja police station Tuesday afternoon, beaten and burned alive. Investigators say they have so far identified 15 men they believe incited a mob that grew to more than 1,000 at the time of the murders. Six men were in custody by late Wednesday night.
The regional police commander said more suspects may be identified in the coming days, including some who posted messages on social that may have led to the murders.
According to police, the three victims were being held on charges of attempted robbery Tuesday morning when rumors began to circulate on social media that they had attempted to drug and kidnap children at a local school. Despite efforts to calm the crowd outside the police station, police were overpowered and the victims were dragged into the street where they were killed.
In addition to the murders, the mob burned the police station, a police cruiser, a taxi and several motorcycles.
Federal prosecutor Jefferson Caicedo, who arrived in Posorja Wednesday morning, said police would have “extensive” back-up as they make arrests. “Given the tense atmosphere in the community we must be prepared for anything,” he said. “We are dealing with some very violent people.”
More than 200 police and 36 army personnel have been deployed to Posorja to help maintain security, Caicedo said.
In Quito, Interior Minister María Paula Romo called the Posorja lynchings the “despicable work of thugs” and said the perpetrators would face justice. She also said the investigation is reviewing all social media postings associated with Tuesday’s events. “The people who spread the rumors must be held responsible for what happened yesterday,” she said. “They are as guilty as the killers.”