The gunman who killed Miss Honduras has told police he murdered the beauty queen and her sister in a jealous rage because his girlfriend danced with another man.
The bodies of Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, and her sister Sofia, 23, were discovered yesterday buried near a spa in Santa Barbara where they disappeared a week earlier while celebrating Sofia’s boyfriend’s birthday.
Miss Alvarado was to have flown to London this week to compete in the Miss World pageant – the high point of her reign as Miss Honduras.
Police said her sister’s boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, confessed to the killing and led investigators to the remote grave site where he and an accomplice buried them in a mountainous area of Santa Barbara, about 240 miles west of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
At some point during the night of November 13, a heated argument broke out and Ruiz pulled a gun, firing first at his girlfriend and then at Miss Alvarado as she tried to flee, said national police director General Ramon Sabillon. Miss Alvarado was shot twice in the back.
The alleged accomplice, Aris Maldonado, is in custody and authorities are searching for other suspects.
Miss Alvarado’s body, wrapped in brown plastic, was loaded into the back of a pick-up truck hours before she was to have boarded the flight to London. The Miss World winner will be crowned on December 14.
“We had her gown ready and her traditional dress costumes,” said television personality and former presidential candidate Salvador Nasrallah, who employed Miss Alvarado as a model on his TV game show X-O Da Dinero.
“This is not a crime of passion; this is machismo.”
Dozens of Ms Alvarado's relatives and friends gathered for a candlelight vigil at the college she attended, remembering a down-to-earth young woman who aspired to be a diplomat and worked as a model to help support her family.
“She was simple, humble, a total innocent smiling and without malice,” said Ludin Reyes, a fellow student at the Technical University of Honduras.
The Centre for Women’s Rights, based in Tegucigalpa condemned the sisters’ killing and noted 328 women had been murdered in the country this year.
“The case of Mary Jose and Sofia show clearly the situation of generalised violence against women and the non-existent response of the Honduran government to prevent, investigate or punish it,” the centre said.
Honduras pageant organiser Eduardo Zablah said the country would not compete this year because of the death of Ms Alvarado, who, according to her pageant profile, played volleyball and football and wanted to be a diplomat after graduating from university.
The sisters’ mother, Teresa Munoz, told Televicentro that Ruiz called her the morning after her daughters disappeared, acting nervously and claiming the women had left the party in a car with other people.
She said her daughters were trusting and naive. “They were not very astute about assessing the people around them. They were just friendly,” Ms Munoz said. “They were going out with people they hadn’t known very long.”
The shooting of Miss Alvarado and her sister highlight what experts call an alarming trend of violence against women in Central America, fuelled by poverty, domestic violence, street gangs, drug trafficking and a culture of chauvinism.
Ruiz’s brother, David Ruiz Rodriguez, met a violent end earlier this year, when he was gunned down in a restaurant in San Pedro Sula in February by men carrying AK-47s.
According to a report by the United Nations, murders of women and girls in Honduras increased by 263% between 2005 and 2013. The country has the highest murder rate in the world for a country not at war, with an estimated 90 to 95 killings per 100,000 people.
“Violence against women is a huge problem in Honduras,” said Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“A lot of girls die this way, but because they’re not famous it doesn’t get the attention and the crimes go unpunished.”
Beauty pageants are popular in Latin America, where the winners are viewed as celebrities and often go on to become entertainers.
But those who knew Miss Alvarado, who was crowned in April, said she was not caught up in the celebrity of her position. She would go around town in jeans with her hair up and without make-up, but did face some unwanted harassment and recently had to change her mobile phone number, Mr Nasrallah said.
“When Maria Jose won the pageant, she didn’t think it was that important. I just wanted her to be happy,” her mother said.