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Testimony of Witness Records Priest’s Last Words

November 28, 1989

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ The last words anyone heard The Rev. Ignacio Martin-Baro say were: ″What an injustice. What carnage.″

A few minutes later, he and five Jesuit colleagues were shot down. The killers seemed determined to leave no witnesses. The cook and her teen-age daughter were slaughtered too.

But someone survived the bloodbath Nov. 16 at Jose Simeon Canas Central American University: a cleaning woman named Lucia Barrera de Cerna.

In sworn testimony the judge made available Monday to The Associated Press, Mrs. Barrera, 44, said the killers wore military uniforms.

Until Monday, only sketchy second-hand accounts were available of her testimony about the killings that stunned El Salvador and caused an international outcry.

″I don’t discount any possibility; it’s probably members of the military,″ said Ricardo A. Zamorra, the investigating judge who took her statement Nov. 22 at the Spanish Embassy, where the woman hid until fleeing to Miami last week under the protection of U.S. officials.

Mrs. Barrera said she was awakened by gunfire at about 1 a.m. and ran to a window. In ″moonlight that was like daytime,″ she reported seeing five uniformed men close in, shooting, on the residence the six Jesuits shared across the way.

Two assailants wore camouflage, she said, like the uniforms ″I have seen on the soldiers in the street,″ and the others were clad in dark uniforms.

She heard doors flung open and more shots, then ″voices, without being able to distinguish who spoke at first. Only the voice of Padre Nachito (Martin-Baro) was I finally able to hear. He was saying: ’What an injustice. What carnage.‴

After an outburst of gunfire, ″Padre Nachito spoke no more, nor could I hear a single voice,″ she said.

A few seconds later, Mrs. Barrera heard furniture crashing and glass breaking. She said she left the window and rushed to tell her husband what she had seen, ″crying for what I imagined might have happened, because I couldn’t hear the padre.″

A few minutes later she heard an explosion, then another.

″After the explosions ... I heard no footsteps, no sound, nothing that told me where they had gone. It seemed as though they had fallen from the sky.″

When dawn came, the terrified woman said, she emerged and found the bodies of four priests, including Martin-Baro, vice-rector of the university, and the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuria, the rector, sprawled on the lawn with their faces destroyed. The others were inside the residence, which was ransacked and pocked by bullets.

The head of the Society of Jesus in Central America, the Rev. Jose Maria Tojeida, said later he could hear shooting for at least 20 minutes.

Reporters later said that hundreds of empty assault-rifle cartridges littered the area.

Judge Zamorra, a close friend of one of the victims, The Rev. Segundo Montes, 56-year-old head of the university’s human rights institute, said circumstantial evidence also pointed to the military.

″It’s logical because of the time,″ he said.

Zamorra said autopsies indicated the eight victims died at about 2 a.m.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed four days earlier and, according to Jesuit officials, there was a virtual military cordon around the campus.

Soldiers had searched the residence the day before the killings. The Jesuits had been the targets of threats, bombs and public denunciations by rightists who considered their liberal theology akin to communism.

″I’m confident we’ll find the masterminds because the government has decided to pursue this to the end,″ Zamorra said.

The massacre prompted fears that right-wing death squads had been turned loose in El Salvador as leftist rebels conducted their biggest offensive of the decade-old war, and President Alfredo Cristiani’s rightist government is under intense pressure to resolve the case.

Judge Zamorra said he must sort through records of fingerprints, ballistics evidence, footprints and the results of a five-hour autopsy session that was repeated after sniper fire interrupted it.

″We’re confident we’ll find the fingerprints of the guilty,″ he said. ″We have faith that God will help us. We’ll follow it to the end.″

The judge was educated by Jesuits and teaches at the university.

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