The Miami Herald
May 13, 2000
Rumor terrified Guatemalan town
Satanic cult fears, tourists' untimely visit a deadly mix

 Associated Press

 TODOS SANTOS, Guatemala -- Satan worshipers -- a cult from abroad that
 planned to sacrifice children in the local soccer field -- were coming. Almost
 everyone in this little mountain town was sure of it.

 So when a sleek bus with tinted windows arrived filled with Japanese tourists --
 people with pale skin in dark clothing, their faces covered to protect against the
 sun -- villagers thought their nightmare had come true.

 One Japanese tourist and a bus driver died in the mayhem that followed, victims
 of a hysteria fueled by rumors and fear of outsiders.

 Nobody knows how the rumors started, but they grew rapidly.

 Some said a satanic leader from Los Angeles was on his way to this town of
 2,200 people. It was said he had asked to use the soccer stadium for an all-night
 session of human sacrifice -- adding to longstanding rumors of international
 child-stealing rings.

 Unconfirmed reports that a girl was stolen in the Huehuetenango market a year
 earlier also sparked suspicion.

 Fears grew so great in late April that officials closed schools for two days. Some
 churches held round-the-clock prayer sessions. Local police assured citizens
 they had a plan for dealing with ``the dark forces.''

 Some officials used newspaper and radio announcements to implore villagers to
 stay calm. They denied any satanic cults had asked to use the soccer field.
 Religious leaders tried to calm their agitated congregations.

 But most of the people in Todos Santos can't read newspapers, and the denials
 only fueled suspicion.

 Then, on April 29, the visitors rolled into town.

 ``They were in the wrong place at the worst possible time,'' said Mayor Julian
 Mendoza. ``Their bus was larger than normal, and it had tinted windows. The
 Japanese were pale-skinned, in clothing our people didn't understand, with their
 faces covered from the hot sun.''

 Tourist Tetsuo Yamahiro startled 22-year-old Catarina Pablo by inching too close
 to her 9-month-old daughter, and Pablo screamed the words villagers were
 prepared to hear: ``They've come to take our babies!''

 Hundreds of people in the outdoor Saturday market began reaching for stones.

 Within minutes Yamahiro lay dead, felled by the stones.

 Down a graveled slope, Guatemalan bus driver Edgar Castellanos had been
 hacked to death with a machete. His body was doused with gasoline and ignited.

 Days later, investigators and journalists arrived to find nothing more than a tranquil
 Indian village where every man except the Coca-Cola truck driver wears
 hand-stitched red-and-white striped pants and women wear colorful Mayan

 ``Todos Santos was absolutely the last place on earth we expected something
 like this to happen,'' said Guido Galli, head of the U.N. office in Huehuetenango,
 the largest nearby town, a four-hour drive from Todos Santos.

 International tourists have been coming to Todos Santos since the late 1980s,
 and its economy has come to depend on the visitors. There are three
 Spanish-language schools for foreigners who spend weeks, months and even
 years studying.

 But despite the electricity, running water and telephone service tourism helped
 usher in, the hamlet remains so isolated that rumors about outsiders run rampant
 and visitors are still considered dangerous.

 Some of the fear stems from Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war, when government
 forces saw Todos Santos and the surrounding areas as a haven for leftist
 guerrillas and obliterated scores of villages in military raids.

 The Mam-speaking people already had reason to distrust outsiders who over
 centuries had treated them as second-class citizens.

 ``I think the people here are now very friendly with tourists, but unlearning a fear of
 invaders from the outside is very difficult,'' said Margarito Calmo, a 59-year-old

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald