Monday, April 16, 2007

In Case You Didn't Know...

I am attempting to write a story on Eric Volz and his parents for my church newsletter, and in digging through the various updates and postings on the website, I found this journal entry from Eric's father Jan Volz. This gives a very clear picture of how bad the situation has been... and how bad it could be again.

The events of Thursday, December 7, the date of Eric's hearing were so unbelievable it's taken me awhile to write about it in a fashion that makes any sense. I know at other times I've described this as a really bad dream or (if I may borrow part of a maternal phrase from one of Dane's updates) a pregnant state of anguishing mental limbo. It is the "not knowing" that is painful. The questions of; is he eating, is he getting any sleep due to the fact he's afraid someone will kill him, how is he holding up mentally and spiritually with no visitors except twice a week and then only one person for a maximum of 15 minutes. It's the "not knowing" that feels like a slow death. In order to write this I had to debrief myself a little bit first in order to find the reality in the midst of my shell shocked state of mind. As you surmise from the fact that I was still in Managua on Friday morning Eric didn't walk out of court with me on Thursday. I expected to return to the US Thursday evening but a Nicaraguan lynch mob outside of the courtroom changed all of that. The judge set a trial court date to try Eric for murder in late January.

All day long in Rivas the locals gathered in the streets outside the courthouse. We had received a report that a vehicle with blaring external loud speakers had been driving through the streets of San Juan telling the town's people that they had to fight for their rights, and stand up to the gringos. The "call to arms" invited them all to come to the Rivas court hearing in order to bring justice to the gringo. Earlier on Friday of last week the Rivas police went to San Juan to conduct a "town meeting" along with the mayor and about a hundred citizens to discuss the case against Eric. There was also a plea to rally around the case and come to Rivas for the hearing. They also gave instructions where to meet the trucks and buses which would transport the ready made mob. The attorney and I rode over to the hearing with the US Embassy RSO (Regional Security Officer) the US Legal Attaché' and one of their assistants. In the middle of the ride my phone rang and it was Eric. He was out of breath from running and told me that the local police paraded him on foot straight down through the middle of town, up the sidewalk from the jail to the courthouse with just a couple of cops. When they were a couple blocks away a mob of men with clubs, sticks and machetes attempted to ambush them and chased them for two blocks. The police fled. A few tried to stick with Eric but keeping up with him is nearly impossible, he's quite fast. Eric out ran the police and the mob and in that he was going to the courthouse he just out ran them straight into the relative safety there with the screaming mob in pursuit. He called me to warn me of the impending danger.

We pulled into Rivas and parked our car up on a side street away from the entrance of the courthouse. By the time we arrived the crowd had grown to about 75 people. Flanked by the Embassy personnel we all went inside where Eric, myself, the Embassy guys, my US attorney and Eric's Nica attorney sat and talked for a little while before the hearing began. It was good to hug him after a phone call like that.

The proceeding got underway an hour late when the judge finally arrived and after some deliberation by the prosecuting attorney the judge dismissed the charges on two of the other defendants, one of whom has already admitted he took part in her murder. On what basis of truthful evidence this dismissal was given we couldn't figure out. The judge only said he was dismissing the charges against this confessed defendant because there wasn't enough evidence to proceed against him. I was appalled because numerous times he admitted to being there when she was killed. Eric's attorney gave his defense of the present charges refuting each but held back some of the crucial information which the attorney said was probably wise because you don't want to shoot your entire arsenal at the preliminary hearing especially if you KNOW the proceeds are going to end in a trial which is exactly what the judge did. He then dropped the gavel stating his decision was to proceed to trial with Eric and one of the confessed killers.

The crowd outside continued to grow and we could hear their chanting even inside the courtroom. The courtroom was 10' by 16' and there were sixty people inside standing on top of one another. I sat in the back row next to my attorney who was taking ferocious notes.

The proceeding finished around 4:30 PM. The Embassy RSO was very concerned as to how the cops were going to get Eric back to the jail. The crowd jeered and shouted, "Come out, gringo, because here we are going to kill you," (a quote from La Prensa a national news publication)

The police assured the RSO they had Eric's security issue covered for his return to the jail but all of us knew better and didn't believe it for a second. It was quickly becoming apparent that the heightened state of frenzy was quickly escalating to the point that any gringo (North American specifically) was in the line of fire or "fair game."

Eric, the RSO and myself began to tell the police how we needed to get Eric out of the courthouse through a side door. The first thing we did was suggest they simply clear the street and move the crowd back but they claimed they couldn't do it. They too were afraid of the crowd. The RSO was also trying to get the police to bring in another 50 reinforcements. The police claimed they were working on that but reinforcements never came. Realizing the vigilantly mob seeking their own form of justice was becoming an ever increasing threat we had to come up with a plan to get Eric (and all of us for that matter) out of this courthouse very soon. Every second wasted gave them time to bring in more vigilantes with clubs, sticks and machetes. Thank God I didn't see any guns. We had a plan to take Eric out the back door which was plausible because at that time there were very few people in the back alley. The Embassy RSO changed clothes with Eric. He was bigger than Eric and struggled with Eric's T-shirt as he slipped it over his head. Eric put on the RSO's shirt, tie, and sport coat making him look a little bit like David Byrne of the Talking Heads from "Stop Making Sense" in his over sized suit. The RSO put on Eric's baseball cap and he was going to run out the front door with his face concealed and jump in the cop car to crate a diversion which would be the time the cops were suppose to take Eric out the back and jump inside of an unmarked car. All of a sudden the police grabbed Eric by both arms and forced him out the front door onto the front porch as if they were offering him to the mob. The two getaway cars they pulled up in front had parked at the far end of the block making the running dash to get there a sure death and as soon as they placed the other remaining defendant in the back of one of those cars they both sped away leaving Eric and the US Embassy RSO standing there facing the crowd. The mob immediately rushed toward them causing the police to scatter and run for their own lives. Eric and the RSO stood alone with no protection and only the split-second option to run for their lives.

Running directly into the oncoming rush of frenzied men with clubs and machetes raised they miraculously passed through them and ran up the street and then disappeared from view as they turned right heading down a side street. That was the last image I had of Eric. That is the last visual burn into my mind was that of my son literally running for his very life. Later the RSO told me what took place next. Eric somehow had slipped the handcuffs off from one hand giving him both hands free with the cuff dangling from one arm. He and Eric ran down the street then entered a Casino. They ran across the casino floor and into the back office area hoping to avoid detection finding refuge in one of the back offices. They locked the door and waited for a moment to see if the murderous mob would pass them over. As it turned out that was only wishful thinking. All of a sudden the door into this tiny sanctuary began to give way as the crowd pounded on the door then started to try breaking it down. Eric and the RSO realized they were cornered and going to die at the hands of these men if they didn't get out of this room. They immediately broke through the side wall of this office breaking them into the adjacent room. This room had a back doorway which led to a small gymnasium. Once they were in the gymnasium they secured all the doors and hoped they would hold until help arrived. The crowd very quickly starting working on those doors as well and it seemed that once again they were moments away from sudden death. Why they grabbed Eric and forced him out the front door into the middle of the lynch mob is incomprehensible.

While this was going on around the corner from where we were in the courthouse we were attempting to plot our own escape there in the darkened lobby area of the courthouse near the only door which opened to the street. It still remained that stepping through that door meant offering ourselves into the arms of the remaining screaming mob. Our Legal Attaché was on his cell phone with our driver trying to get our vehicle brought up as close to the door as we could. We were expecting our car to pull up any moment so we were standing close to the front exit door in order to make a mad dash to the car when it arrived. A woman outside caught a glimpse of me and I suppose my curly hair (a physical attribute which Eric and I share) she began to yell and scream like a banshee. She was inciting those mobsters who remained outside the courthouse to once again, "Kill the gringo!" This time she was talking about me and anybody else that looked like they were with me or connected to anyone on Eric's team. They began to rush the building with us standing there desperately needing our car.

All of a sudden the car sped up to the curb, both doors flew open, and we made a fast dash from the front door to the car, diving into the back seat and then the car sped up the street filled with mob frenzy laden vigilantes. Those in front of us hoping we'd stop rather than run over them because they stood directly in front of the oncoming car received a surprise when the Embassy driver stomped her foot to the floor with no intention of stopping but rather showing our intent to run them over if they faltered in diving out of the way. Had we been stopped they would have busted the windows out of the car, dragged us into the street and killed every one of us. After getting lost because we were running back streets trying to find the police station we reluctantly stopped to ask directions. The Attaché rolled the window down which to me was frightening because I didn't know who might be friend and who might be foe. Finally we made it back to the police station about three quarters of an hour after this fiasco at the courthouse began only to find that Eric and the RSO weren't there yet. We tried to call the RSO's cell phone with no luck so needless to say my heart sank picturing Eric lying on the dirty street face down, beaten and hacked to death in a pool of crimson, never again able to feel his firm tender hug with his face nuzzled in the cup of my neck. I stepped away from my attorney, the Attaché, and the Chief of Police finding some solace in the distant darkness of the courtyard area where I fell to my knees and cried out to God.

For about 15 minutes I stumbled around in the outer darkness of that courtyard, struggling to see with my eyes full of tears when my sense of doom was interrupted by policemen yelling at the front gate. In a flash the gate was thrown open as a blue and white Police pickup truck came wildly through the entrance into the inner courtyard. I was at quite a distance but I could see the passengers riding in the back were bouncing around like toy dolls as the truck came to an abrupt halt. It was dark except for some distant yard lights inside the police courtyard and I didn't see that Eric was in the back of that truck with the RSO. I'm sure he was quite a sight still wearing handcuffs on one arm with the oversized suit and tie belonging to the RSO. The police scrambled out of the truck running toward the cell blocks with somebody in hand. At the time I didn't realize it was Eric.

I saw the RSO coming across the courtyard walking toward my attorney, the Attaché and the Chief. He immediately pulled the Chief aside and began to climb all over his case. His adrenalin level after such and ordeal was so high he was expressing / venting his level of anger which was spilling from his near death experience. I thought we were going have to pull him off the Chief of Police. He wasn't mad; he was beyond that mild reaction. He had almost been killed due to the stupidity and incompetence of the police force and at that moment he wasn't timid about expressing it. Its funny how even though the screaming and yelling he was doing was in Spanish the explicative were apparent and sometimes came out in English as the expression of his terror came out on that Chief. I can only imagine Eric's level of adrenalin rush if he went through a wall to save his life.

The newspaper the next morning said that both men (Eric and the RSO) in the run for their lives were hit by the mob a few times but the RSO who had some bruises on his arm said he thought Eric was fine and passed through without being touched. He went in to where they were holding Eric and they changed clothes again. Needless to say had they caught any of us we wouldn't have lived to tell about it.

I had a rough sleepless night as the last image of Eric which was etched on my mind was a picture of him running from a frenzied mob of men with sticks and machetes chasing him down the street wearing tennis shoes with no laces…

Though I couldn't see them with my own eyes I can picture angels deflecting the deadly blows of clubs and machetes as that courageous young man ran headlong into the oncoming mob seeking refuge, safety, and ultimately his freedom.

Whatever your spiritual persuasion don't stop what you have been doing. Thursday evening I saw the results of miraculous intervention spare his life. I've seen the invisible hand that closed the mouths of those lions as Daniel stood courageously in their midst.

Blessing and courage to all of you,


The headline in Friday's copy of the La Prensa Newspaper read "Intentan linchar a gringo" which translates to: [Mob] Attempts to Lynch the American

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