Harrowing images of police battling gang violence in crime-stricken Honduras


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

Imagine working for the police in Honduras, a country that holds the highest per-capita murder rate in the world. In a place that doesn't have an outright war waging like Iraq or Afghanistan, a violent death still takes place every 74 minutes.

The shocking amount of crime fueled by gangs and drug-trafficking in the country is one of many factors contributing to the mass exodus of immigrants into the United States. Tens of thousands of Hondurans, most of them children, make a 1,400-mile trek to escape the dire conditions in their home country. President Obama recently requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds to help facilitate what he declared a "humanitarian crisis."

Gang violence is behind a majority of the crime in Honduras, and police forces work in dangerous conditions to try to combat criminal activity. A majority of the officers wear masks to shield themselves from becoming targets of the violence.

Photographer Sean Sutton spent almost three weeks in the Honduran capital of  Tegucigalpa traveling with an investigative unit of a Honduras police force and watching them tackle violence in one of the world's most dangerous regions. Here are his photographs.

In the photo at the top, a suspected gang member was surrounded by officers in Tegucigalpa. A raid had an average of 25 officers, but could sometimes peak at 260, according to Sutton.

The photo below shows a storage room at a police facility. Each weapon pictured was used in a crime. There are many similar facilities storing weapons across the city that could be used for evidence in trials.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

This man was sitting in his car, reading a newspaper with his car door open when a vehicle with armed men approached him, Sutton said. The man was shot 13 times at close range. "The shooting took place outside of his place of work," said Sutton. The reason the victim was killed was unknown, but many businessmen have been killed because they failed to pay an extortion fee that gangs charge.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

The victim's close family members were also at the scene and reacted to the murder.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

An X-ray of a body shows where bullets are located.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

Here, doctors performed an autopsy at the city's morgue and forensic center.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

A grieving woman sat next to the coffin of her 16-year-old nephew, who went missing along with another boy the previous day. She has no idea why he was killed.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

This morgue contained five bodies-- all murders that took place before lunchtime.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

This marking of a clown represents a gang. Different neighborhoods in the capital are marked by symbols representing the strongholds for a specific gang.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

Gang members usually have tattoos of those symbols, making it a recognizable flag that police officers look for when making arrests.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)

Police officers conducted a raid in the Barrio Abajo district of Tegucigalpa, where they believed gangs were living. The gangs are constantly at war over control of neighborhoods and the trade in drugs and arms.


(Sean Sutton for The Washington Post)
Swati Sharma is a digital editor for World and National Security and previously worked at the Boston Globe.
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