Officials at the Turi prison are being tight-lipped following the hanging deaths of six inmates Thursday morning. After first saying it appeared the deaths were suicides, they later conceded that revenge could be a factor but refused further comment pending an investigation.
The victims were found suspended from rafters in their cells just before noon in different units of the prison, two in the minimum security pavilion, three in medium security and one in maximum security.
According to news media, the scene inside and outside the prison was chaotic following the discovery of the bodies, with more than a hundred police converging on the parking lot and family members of prisoners screaming from behind prison fences.
“At first, there were reports of a riot inside the building, which the authorities denied, but we could hear banging and shouting through the open windows so we knew there was some kind of disturbance,” said television reporter Oscar Castro. “Everyone’s question is how in the world could this happen? What kind of security does the prison maintain that would allow this? It was absurd they would say that six prisoners committed suicide simultaneously in different parts of the prison.”
According to Castro, there is no doubt the inmates were murdered as a result of conflicts between criminal gangs operating at Turi and Ecuador’s other national prisons. “Los Choneros, Latin Kings, Los Lagartos, Los Gorra and Los Cubanos operate freely in the all the facilities and there were murders last year in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas. These are the first in Cuenca.”
Cuenca city officials expressed outrage at the deaths, suggesting the prison is poorly managed and over-crowded and that it poses a danger to the community. Municipal councilman Cristian Zamora criticized the recent transfer of dangerous inmates from Guayaquil to Cuenca and said the prison now houses 2,771 inmates while its capacity is 2,716. “Those living near the prison say they feel in danger because of the friends and family members of the inmates who camp outside the prison. Many of these people are criminals themselves.”
Mayor Pedro Palacios also voiced concern, criticizing prison management for not releasing more information. “It appears we have a situation that is out of control,” he said.
The dead were identified as Carlos C. and Jorge T, convicted for rape; Adilson L. and Darío M., for murder; and Stalin E. and Pedro N., for robbery.