New Mexico officials today released the first grisly tallies from the weekend rebellion at the state penitentiary; 35 dead, at least 20 of them murdered by their fellow inmates and at least seven dead from overdoses of drugs grabbed from the ransacked prison pharmacy.
The cause of death in some instances was unknown, and an undetermined number of bodies remained inside the prison complex.
"They took over the shoe shop and had five gallons of glue that they sniffed a great deal of," Gov. Bruce King said in a press conference at the state building here. "You cannot believe the tragic manner -- the way some human beings will treat other human beings."
What King was referring to, although he avoided the details this morning, was the rampage of murder and mutilitation that is apparently without precedent in the history of modern American prisons.
It is unclear, in these first days of autopsy and sifting through the devastated prison yards, whether the weekend's revolt was propelled by drugs, glue, or the pent-up fury of convicts locked away in a prison that was by most accounts overcrowded, unsanitary and staffed by poorly trained and poorly paid guards.
Whatever the fuel, witnesses and inmates who fled described a bloody rampage aimed partly at prison informers, partly at black inmates, and partly at anyone who happened to get in the way.
"The men who came out and talked to us -- when they went back, some of them got beaten up," said Ernie Mills, a Santa Fe radio reporter who made his way into the prison during the predawn hours on Saturday after the riot began and then found himself drawn into desperate negotiations to release the 14 men taken hostage.
As Mills stood inside the prison grounds, listening to inmates repeat their grievances and their insistence that the media examine conditions in depth, he watched prisoners carry maimed bodies out on stretchers "as a sign they meant business," he related.
Mills already had begun to go numb -- at one point he began simply making a mark in his notes for each new body -- when he heard someone shout: "We got another one for you!" It was a black man of small build, and his severed head had been placed between his legs.
A hooded inmate told the Associated Press that "there was an execution squad of seven prisoners."
King, noting that the state had completed a $4 million capital improvement program in the prison the day before the rebellion, said minimal rehabilitation of the prison buildings would cost $10 million.
Some prisoners died of smoke inhalation when they were trapped inside when fires were set all over the complex. By midafternoon today, 24 hours after the last of the hostages had been safely released, the air still stank of burnt blankets and mattresses. Walls had been smashed, heaters and electrical plates ripped away, and toilets shattered in cells. Filthy water lay two feet deep in some parts of the complex. In one cell, blood ran from a toilet to an open cell door.
The prisoners huddled outside the charred prison buildings, wrapped in blankets and shouting through a barbed wire fence for reporters to bring them food. The prisoners have been split into groups, with some now housed in a cellblock that escaped major destruction.
"We can't leave them together," said state police Sgt. George Ulibarri, "or they'll kill each other."
With bodies still inaccessible, some temporarily unrecognizable because of wounds and burns, and about 50 prisoners lying injured and under guard at three local hospitals, the terrible uncertainty for waiting families has not been eased.
A reporter preparing to enter the prison was besieged by anguished relatives who still had not learned, after three days of huddling outside in the cold, whether their menfolk were alive or dead.
"My husband said, 'I know it's going to happen,'" cried the wife of an inmate whose fate was unknown. "He said, 'Something's going to happen here. It's going to be a riot. Sometbody's going to get killed. We sleep almost together like sardinas. Some thing's going to happen."
The 23-year-old prison has been assailed three times in recent years for its conditions: once in a pending classaction suit that alleged gross sanitation violations, inadequate medical and psychological service overcrowding in the facility that was built for about 850 inmates and now houses 1,136; once in a state attorney general's report that said prison guards were badly trained and paid, and once in a county grand jury analysis that attacked security conditions and said the staff was plagued with "nepotism and cliques."
The 36-hour rebellion ended at 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon, after five prisoners acting as negotiators finally agreed to release their last two hostages. Three other prison employes actually were trapped inside the prison at the time, but one had locked himself in a vault and two had hidden in the area of the gas chamber.
With television cameras rolling, the prisoners asked that for their own protection they be transferred out of the state. Corrections commission director Felix Rodriguez, a former warden who had earned the respect of many inmates, promised this would be done adding that "nobody will be beaten up, shot, or anything else."
Having secured that guarantee, plus a promise from reporter Ernie Mills to produce five days' intensive public television coverage of the prisoners' grievances, the inmates surrendered peacefully to state police and National Guard troops, leaving corpses and bloodied walls behind them as they filed out onto the grass.