From 1980 to 1992, El Salvador was divided by an internal armed conflict between the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Government, led by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).
In this context, on 16 November 1989, six Jesuit priests, a cook and her 16 years old daughter were killed at the Pastoral centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University in San Salvador (UCA). The victims were Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice-Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; Armando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, all teachers at UCA; and Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina Ramos.
Tomas Zarpate Castillo, 28 at the time, was allegedly the leader of the third commando squad in the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite, rapid response, counter-insurgency unit of the Salvadoran Army.
These murders were investigated by a Truth Commission, established during the Chapultepec Peace Accords in 1992. According to their findings, Colonel René Emilio Ponce gave Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides the order to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuria and any potential witnesses.
On 16 November 1989, a group of soldier from the Atlacatl Battalion entered the Pastoral Centre of the UCA. The soldiers initially tried to force their way into the building, until the priests opened the door, allowing them to enter. The priests were forced to lie facedown in the back garden, while the soldiers searched the residence.
The lieutenant Guerra allegedly gave the order to kill the priests. Private Grimaldi allegedly shot and killed Fathers Ellacuria, Martín-Baró and Montes, while Deputy Sergeant Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas allegedly killed Fathers López and Moreno.
Subsequently, Father Joaquín López y López was allegedly killed by Angel Pérez Vasquez, while Deputy Sergeant Tomás Zarpate Castillo shot Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos. Private José Alberto Sierra Ascencio returned and shot them both again to make sure they were dead.
Finally, according to the Truth Commission, the soldiers fired a machine gun at the façade of the residence, as well as rockets and grenades. They allegedly left a cardboard indicating “FMLN executed those who informed on it. Victory or death, FMLN.”