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For father who lost five in soccer stampede: tears and silence

December 11, 1996

MIXCO, Guatemala (AP) _ Alberto Chamale was watching on his old black-and-white TV when Latin America’s worst soccer stadium stampede began. His family of 12 was about to be cut nearly in half.

The 71-year-old man tuned in for Guatemala’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica on Oct. 16. Then tragedy struck the stadium, 10 miles away in Guatemala City.

First there were reports of fans, desperate to get in, shoving at the southern entrance to Mateo Flores Olympic Stadium. Then came accounts of a crowd pushing through the entrance, then bodies atop bodies cascading down the slope of the southern stands.

Wild cheering drowned out the first cries for help. When it was over, 82 people were dead, including five from Chamale’s family, and 156 were injured.

Chamale said the horror hit home quickly as he watched in his home, located in a labyrinth of rutted dirt alleys pocked by trash and gang graffiti.

``An announcer came on TV and said, `There have been some deaths.′ The first name they gave was my son, Edgar. I burst into tears,″ he said. ``Then they starting saying five dead, eight, 15, and so on.″

Now tears flow every night in this green cement-block home, where Chamale hunches on a ragged sofa and mourns the two sons, two daughters and a grand-daughter.

Time has not dulled the pain.

In Mixco, supportive neighbors set stray dogs barking as they rushed to Chamale’s home. Two days later, Chamale’s grown sons, Samuel and Edgar, daughters Blanca Liria and Maria del Carmen, and 17-year-old grand-daughter Monica were buried.

Bells of Mixco’s whitewashed church pealed as five coffins bobbed down dusty streets, carried on shoulders. Women in flowery Indian skirts called out ``Adios! Adios!″ and men wept as five mariachi guitarists in black sombreros led the procession.

``We were 12. Now we are half,″ said Chamale, slumped amid the home’s bare furnishings: the sofa, some chairs, a portable stereo, porcelain figures of kittens and the TV set.

Selvin Galindo, the special prosecutor in the case, said 17 arrests have been made, from authorities supervising the event to two men accused of selling false tickets.

Most are free on bond, professing innocence. But Galindo said he would press forward with prosecution in January on homicide and other charges.

Speaking with The Associated Press, Galindo said prosecutors would argue that a stadium that should hold about 32,000 fans had been oversold by more than 13,000 and that in addition a ``mafia,″ working independently, sold bogus tickets copied with color photocopiers.

He said authorities would recommend that a fence that can collapse under crowd pressure be erected around the field. He also said a fund was being sought to compensate victims, most of them poor.

Many of the families of victims seek compensation from thousands of dollars in frozen gate receipts.

Chamale said he hasn’t gotten help beyond a collection by neighbors, and he still owes for two burials.

Blanca Liria, 26, made blue jeans at a nearby plant, and Maria del Carmen, 36, worked as a chemist at a cosmetic factory. Edgar Genaro was a mechanic and amateur soccer player and Samuel, 35, a funeral home worker.

Then there was Monica Elizabeth, just 17 and studying to be a secretary. Teen-age schoolgirls carried her white lace coffin to the tomb.

The survivors are doing their best.

One son, Marco Artulio, 31, came home that night with bruises and a broken leg.

His wife, Ana Lopez, 23, said her husband is an accountant who hasn’t gone back to work, but needs to because of the approaching tax season.

She said the family was in the stands in front of the southern entrance when the pileup began. ``They got separated and he survived,″ Ana Lopez said.

Where once there was conversation and laughter each night as grown children returned from their jobs, she said, there is silence or sobbing.

``Every night there is crying,″ she said.

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