Photo: Gerardo López
One morning of June, 2018, Harold Añez and Yerwins Elías, both 16, met on the way to the Coro stadium for their usual training. Inseparable since childhood, they’d been through several baseball academies in Venezuela, and were known to various Major League talent scouts. That day, Harold’s dad, Alexander Añez, told them that he’d gotten the phone call they’d been waiting for, from a sports agent saying they’d been admitted to an academy in Colombia. They were going to perfect their technique for a few months, and then they’d travel to the Dominican Republic, to compete as prospects for the contract they dreamed of.
There were a few conditions. In Harold’s case (a pitcher 1.80 meters tall), he had to increase his pitches from 80 to 85 miles per hour; Yerwins, a catcher, had to increase his speed a bit, and his muscle mass.
In Venezuela, baseball is a hope for thousands of kids who see it as an opportunity to change their lives. The press often publishes news of young prospects signed in American teams, with contracts of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Harold and Yerwins fulfilled the athletic conditions, but lacked the money to reach Colombia. The academy would cover their training and a partial scholarship, but they had to pay for their trip and accommodation. Harold’s parents were laborers; Yerwins’ dad went to Colombia to work as a metalworker, and send money for the family and his son’s trip.
By December, the boys hadn’t been able to move. They had left school to focus solely on their training, and felt responsible for all the effort put on supporting them. Yerwins told his mom that he wanted to leave everything and go to live with his dad.
“No, no, keep on with baseball,” she said.
The day of unsolved questions
At noon on December 1st, Harold and Yerwins left their homes in the Cástulo Mármol Ferrer neighborhood, in Coro, to train. They were supposed to be back by 6:00 p.m., but by 9:00 p.m. nobody knew where they were and Alexander got worried. His son wasn’t picking up the phone as he always did.
He went to the headquarters of detectives (CICPC) to rule out the possibility of an arrest, but the officers denied it. Then he went to the police department of Falcón State, and then to the general hospital. The answer was the same.
Yenni, Yerwins’ mom, followed suit. At 3:00 a.m., a neighbor who knew about the search got a text message: “Two kids with gunshots just arrived at the general hospital. Apparently they lived in Cástulo Mármol.”
Alexander couldn’t believe his eyes: his kid was lying on a stretcher with two gunshot wounds in the chest. He crumbled over the body, crying and screaming. He demanded info about his son’s best friend, “Find Yerwins, they must have him here, on the floor like a dog!”
And indeed, a few meters apart from Harold’s stretcher, and under another body, rested Yerwins’ corpse. His mother Yenni arrived a bit later. “Come in and take your thug with you,” they told her as soon as she crossed the door.
Yerwins’ dad found out about this on his way to Ecuador, where he was heading to try better luck. He decided to make his way back to Coro, living a nightmare.
According to the CICPC, the kids, accompanied by another called Randy, were robbing a fruit shop in the Eastern part of town. The police surprised them and a gunfight ensued. That was also the version of Falcón Citizen Security Commander, Oswaldo Rodríguez, an infamous cop nicknamed “El León.”
“El León” had quite the past; on March 10th, 2003, while he was chief of the Falcón police, a man named José Antonio Vargas entered the general command carrying food for an inmate and was never heard from again. “El León” was elected mayor of Coro for the 2008-2013 period, but he couldn’t finish his term because he was sentenced to 20 years of jail time, in 2011, for Vargas’ disappearance. He served only three of those.
Nobody believed the police’s version: Harold and Yerwins were seen getting on a purple Chevrolet Aveo, along with two men in Roosevelt Ave; there were security videos of them getting off the vehicle in front of the fruit shop; they’d been recognized by the victims of the robbery after their deaths.
It seemed like the kids were indeed involved, but nobody could say why, with such a promising career ahead.
As soon as the investigation started, it was revealed that a CICPC detective, Enyerber Torres, also with a criminal record, was the mastermind behind the robbery. According to witnesses, he took the kids and Randy Rojas to help him.
Torres is in jail, accused of aggravated robbery, criminal association and using teenagers to commit crimes, while the rest of the officers involved are still at large.
Harold and Yerwins died the same way: two gunshots in the chest. With folders full of newspaper cutouts and police reports, their parents keep wondering how two kids with no criminal records, who’d never used a gun, could’ve been involved in a robbery? If it truly was a gunfight, in a shop that was closed with the robbers inside and the police outside, how could the officers hit them precisely in the chest?
According to Diario Nuevo Día, which keeps its own statistics, 103 people died in Falcón in 2018, during “clashes with the police.” In April 2019 alone, they reported 14 people dead for resisting authority.
The parents have met with Cofavic and other human rights group, their only goal now is to clear their children’s names. They insist, even though a few police officers have “suggested” they shouldn’t mess with “El León.” Allegedly, “El León” made his people upload fake pictures on social media of a wake service with guns on top of the coffins, seeking to justify the murders. But the parents repeat that in the wake there were only bats, balls and uniforms.
Shortly afterwards, in a game between Leones del Caracas and Navegantes del Magallanes, Magallanes manager, Coro-born Luis Dorante, requested a minute of silence to honor the teenagers.
Harold’s room still contains the trophies and medals he won, his weights, a practice manual from the Arizona Diamondbacks and posters of his idol, Dominican big leaguer Emilio Marte. And in a drawer, hidden like a treasure, are the old sports shoes Harold was keeping, because when he got to the Major League, he had to remember the steps that took him there…
This story, originally published on La Vida de Nos, is part of the project La Vida de Nos Itinerante, where people from all over the country take part in workshops to improve their skills to tell real stories. Pictures by Gerardo López. Translated by Javier Liendo.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.