TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — In a capital so dangerous that only the "walking dead" are said to venture out after dark, nothing could draw an obedient son into the deserted night.
Nothing, that is, but a girl.
Ebed Yanes had friended her on Facebook, and the studious 15-year-old was desperate to meet her. "My parents are still awake," he wrote her that Saturday night in May. "I'll shower while they go to bed and I'll get the keys to the motorcycle."
But he never found her. "I've been looking for 45 minutes," he texted, "but now I better get back before the soldiers catch me."
Ebed knew he lived in a perilous country, with a murder rate that likely makes Honduras the most violent country in the world. The state of emergency declared by the government wouldn't stop him. Nor would the drug gangs that handle three-quarters of all cocaine headed for the U.S.
By 1:30 a.m., Ebed was dead, slumped over his father's motorcycle with a bullet to the back of his head.
Figuring out what happened has become a mission for the boy's father, Wilfredo Yanes, and revealed the dysfunction that's made this impoverished country a barely functioning state. It's also raised questions about the efficacy of millions of dollars in anti-narcotics aid the U.S. military has provided Honduras.
"I'm not only reacting to the impotence that my son's death made me feel," said Wilfredo, a 57-year-old organic food supplier. "I can't allow for rights to be violated, and even less if it's my family's right to life."
Every Sunday, before going to church, Ebed's job was to wash the family's car. That Sunday, Wilfredo noticed that his car was still dirty. Ebed was not in bed, and the family's motorcycle was missing.
Wilfredo's boy never left their gated community alone, had never taken public transportation and didn't know his way about the city. Even when he went to Tae Kwon Do lessons, his older sister waited in the car for him. It was hard to imagine what could have happened to him.
"We need to stay calm," Wilfredo told his wife, Berlin Caceres, 42, a university professor.
First they filed a missing person report with police. They also turned to the homicide division, where officers said they had found a motorcycle next to the body of an unidentified young man. There had been a party in the neighborhood, they said, and somebody from the party must have killed him.
Wilfredo recognized his red motorcycle.
"Is it him?" asked his wife.
"Yes, it's him," Wilfredo said. She fainted, and he barely had time to catch her before she hit the ground.
Wilfredo walked into the city morgue alone, where he found his only son, with a broken jaw that hadn't even seen its first shave, and an exit wound next to his mouth.
As shock set in, Wilfredo received his son's belongings: his BlackBerry, a broken helmet, a set of house keys.
On his way to the funeral, he stopped at the police station near where Ebed had been found. Two policemen said they had heard shots late Saturday but had been too afraid to go out and investigate.
On the block where his son died, a witness told Wilfredo he had seen six to eight masked soldiers in dark uniforms approaching a body. They poked it with their rifles, then picked up the empty bullet casings and returned to their vehicle, an unusually big pickup truck.
After the sun came up, residents said, they went outside and gathered bullet casings that the soldiers had failed to find. They gave them to the father, who carried them to his son's funeral.
That night, at Ebed's wake, Wilfredo made a promise: "My son will not be just one more statistic."
The father knew the long odds he faced: The country's police investigated only 21 percent of cases between 2010 and 2011, public records show. But Wilfredo was determined to solve his son's case.
He reached out to Julieta Castellanos, the president of National University, whose son had been killed at a police roadblock last year. She had become a fearless critic of police impunity and advised Wilfredo to gather evidence and contact the prosecutor's office.
Days later, Wilfredo and his wife drove through the hilly outskirts of the capital, looking for a vehicle that fit the witness descriptions. On their third trip, they stumbled upon an army checkpoint near the alley where their son was killed.
The pickup they found matched the one neighbors had described.
Days later, Wilfredo was sitting in the office of the country's head prosecutor, German Enamorado, who was outraged by the story. He assigned two prosecutors to the case that same day.
There was one problem, though: The poorly equipped prosecutors didn't even have a car. Wilfredo offered to drive.
At army headquarters, they found an incident report saying a man on a motorcycle had fired on soldiers at the checkpoint and fled.
Then they learned chilling news: The Ford pickup had been donated by the U.S. government, and the special forces unit had been trained by the U.S. and even vetted as free of corruption and involvement in human rights violations.
In other words, these were Honduras's finest soldiers.
The army chief, Rene Osorio, told the press Ebed had deserved what he got.
"Everyone who does not stop at a military checkpoint is involved in something," Osorio said.
Called in by Enamorado, the soldiers said they couldn't remember a man on a motorcycle.
After the interview, however, one soldier called his own mother and told her a very different story, according to the investigative file. He said he had been ordered to lie about the shooting.
He later testified that the soldiers had chased Ebed through dark alleys until the motorcycle turned into one that was too narrow for their truck. The lieutenant ordered the unit to open fire. Col. Juan Giron then arranged the cover-up, according to the soldier, who's now a protected witness.
"We were ordered to pick up the shell casings and we returned to the roadblock. He told us what we had to say ... that we shouldn't say what happened," according to the investigative file.
Officers also took the weapons the soldiers had used that night and exchanged them, the soldiers said.
Enamorado said it was right to chase Ebed, to try to stop him, even to shoot into the air. But not at a fleeing suspect.
"They used my son as target practice," Wilfredo said.
Within 17 days of opening the case, three soldiers were arrested, and Eleazar Abimael Rodriguez, 22, was charged with murder and imprisoned. The two others, including the officer who ordered the unit to shoot, were suspended from the army and released on bail awaiting trial, charged with covering up a crime and abuse of their office.
Punishing the three officers involved in the alleged cover-up may prove trickier.
The lieutenant colonel who allegedly ordered the weapons exchanged, Reynel Funes, attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, on the U.S. government's dime. He had also been trained at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
The military has denied any officer wrongdoing.
"All this about lies and switching the weapons is a novel," said army spokesman Lt. Col. Jeremias Arevalo.
"We are a responsible and serious armed force, and we are against impunity."
After months of pushing, Wilfredo persuaded the prosecutor two weeks ago to investigate the officers and figure out what happened with the guns used to shoot his son. He has also petitioned the government to take the army off the streets through a constitutional amendment.
He prays his country will deliver justice. He also hopes that someday, a boy will be able to test the limits of freedom without fear for his life.
Associated Press writer Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, contributed to this report.