Police say a 16-year-old was burned to death in Guatemala this month
It's one of more than 20 such killings this year
Some slam so-called vigilante justice; others say authorities can't be trusted
A large crowd stands by as a teenage girl – beaten and bloodied – writhes on the ground, her body engulfed in flames.
“Add gasoline,” someone shouts.
The shocking scene from a Guatemalan village went viral online and has spurred a debate over what some describe as vigilante justice in the Central American country.
Citing witnesses in the village of Rio Bravo, local media reported that the girl was beaten and burned to death for her alleged involvement in the killing of a taxi driver there earlier this month.
Police told CNN they haven’t verified the authenticity of the video. But they said they are investigating the circumstances leading up to the death of a 16-year-old girl who was set on fire in Rio Bravo, a small village two hours west of Guatemala’s capital in the state of Suchitepequez.
Guatemalan authorities have pointed to vigilante justice as a persistent problem, particularly in rural areas.
After a wave of mob attacks last year, President Otto Perez Molina said it’s a problem that results from a lack of enough police officers patrolling the population.
But some analysts have suggested it’s a matter of how little people trust police and other authorities, not how many officers are on the streets.
So far this year, there have been more than 20 similar mob burnings in the country, according to Mario Polanco of Guatemala’s Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo human rights organization.
“It is unfortunate these types of situations occur,” Polanco said. “They are produced by the weakness of the state’s institutions to guarantee safety and justice for the population, and so (people) take justice into their own hands.”
Guatemala is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations, which created a commission in 2006 to investigate corruption and impunity there. Nearly every murder in Guatemala goes unsolved, and convictions are achieved in only about 6% of all criminal cases, the commission says on its website.
Witnesses: Mob stopped police from stepping in
The video purporting to show the teen’s death in Rio Bravo, which was posted on YouTube and numerous Guatemalan media websites, begins with an image of the girl stumbling with blood streaming down her face.
A large crowd of people standing shoulder to shoulder watches as men and women slam her face into ground and kick her head. Then, someone sets her on fire and douses her with gasoline.
Some in the crowd record the incident on their cell phones. No one steps in to put out the blaze.
Residents who spoke with CNN affiliate Noti7 said the teenager in the video and two men robbed and shot dead a tax driver. The two men – one of whom is believed to have fired the deadly shot – escaped the crime scene, but a group of residents captured the girl and attacked her.
Police eventually arrived at the scene, witnesses told Noti7, but the mob quickly turned on officers and blocked any attempts at rescue.
The Catholic Church and government officials have condemned the incident, Noti7 reported.
And on social media and in the comments sections of local media reports about what happened, many people have blasted the town’s residents.
“They are just as much murderers as the those who killed the taxi driver,” one person posted in response to an article about the incident on the Guatevision website. “May God pardon them. She was almost a girl. It hurts me to see that there was not even one good soul who helped this girl. Remember that we will all be measured by the same bar.”
But reactions have been mixed. Some have even applauded what they said was justice being served.
“Let’s see if all of you who are speaking out here would have defended this girl if she’d killed your son, mother, father or grandfather,” another post on the Guatevision article said.