Gunfire sparks terror during children’s celebration in Colombia

A man can be seen carrying an injured teenage girl in this screengrab of a video filmed in El Tarra, northern Colombia, on April 27. On that day, gunfire rang out in several locations across the town, including near a gymnasium where children were attending activities to mark Children's Day.
A man can be seen carrying an injured teenage girl in this screengrab of a video filmed in El Tarra, northern Colombia, on April 27. On that day, gunfire rang out in several locations across the town, including near a gymnasium where children were attending activities to mark Children's Day. © Social media

Families in El Tarra, Colombia who brought their children to special activities to mark Children's Day on April 27 were horrified when their festivities were interrupted by gunfire. Four people were injured in the city, including two civilians, one of whom was a teenage girl. Authorities have blamed the incident on guerrilla fighters. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to several mothers about raising children in a zone with a high level of violence and drug trafficking carried out by armed groups. 

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El Tarra is a small city in the North Santander (Norte de Santander) department, which sits on the border with Venezuela. On April 27, locals organised activities for families in a local gymnasium to celebrate Children's Day. 

Around 3,000 people attended the events, including 2,500 children. Gunshots first rang out around 4:30pm, according to two mothers who spoke to our team on condition of anonymity.  

'I was afraid because you never know how that situation might end'

Gloria (not her real name) attended the festivities with her 11-year-old daughter:

At a certain point, someone told me that there had been gun shots, but I didn’t notice them because of the music. I only heard them afterwards. My daughter and I hid below the stage until the shooting stopped. I had the impression that the gunfire was close but I didn’t see any armed men. It was chaos – there was shouting, mothers looking for their children all over. I was afraid because you never know how that situation might end. 

A man who I know, who was near me, was shot in the leg. A 14-year-old girl was also wounded, a bit farther away from us.  They were immediately brought to a health post. 

 

The video below shows a man carrying a girl in his arms. Gloria says that was the 14-year-old girl who was injured. 

This video was filmed in a gymnasium in El Tarra, Colombia on April 27. At 0:16, you can see a man carrying a wounded teenager in his arms.

In another video, filmed after the first, a woman cries, “The girl, she was shot here. Lord!” 

In both videos, you can see children running and hear people crying and screaming. A woman screams into a loudspeaker. “Please, don't shoot, there are children!”

However, you don’t hear gunshots in either of these videos. 

This video was filmed in a gym in El Tarra, Colombia on April 27 shortly after the first video.

Gunfire in different places across the city

Our team spoke to the mayor of El Tarra, Yair Díaz Peñaranda, who said that the gunfire came from members of Front 33, a dissident group made up of former FARC fighters after FARC was officially demobilised in a peace agreement signed with the government in 2016.

“The guerillas attacked the La Esperanza military base [located to the north of the town, around a kilometre from the gym] and the police post. The army reacted immediately, which led to a confrontation. The gunfire lasted about forty minutes," Peñaranda explained.

He said that gunfire had broken out in several different locations. 

Another two videos filmed in the north of the town, far from the gym, document the gunfire that broke out there. The first video shows children lying on the floor in a classroom. You can hear gunfire going off around them. 

“Calm down, we’re ok, we are on the ground,” their teacher repeats. 

Our team spoke to the teacher. 

“We shut ourselves in the classroom and tried to be calm, waiting for it to end,” she told us. 

This video was filmed in a classroom located 400 metres from the military base in El Tarra, Colombia on April 27.

In the second video, you can hear shots ring out. Then, you see a man using a gun in the street. 

You can hear shots ring out and see a firearm being used at 0:14 in this video, filmed near the military base in El Tarra, Colombia on April 27.

On April 28, the Colombian Army blamed another guerilla group for the gunfire. They said the ELN had attacked the population and nearby military bases along with FARC dissidents. The army also said that two soldiers were wounded, alongside the two civilians that Gloria mentioned. All of the injured were transferred to a hospital in Cucuta, the capital of the department, for medical care.

For the moment, it is not clear who injured the two civilians, but the army says that it did not use weapons against them.

'If I flee violence here, I know I will find it again elsewhere'

Valentina (not her real name) was also attending the Children's Day festivities with her two daughters when gunfire broke out:

We often hear gunfire in town. When that happens, we try to stay calm. We hide in our homes, where the bullets can’t reach us. But sometimes people do get injured, even though it is rare. For example, in 2021, a bullet went through the roof of a home and injured a child.  

The military base is nearby and that can be dangerous, for example, for students that have to cross the premises to go to school, because the base is a target for armed groups. 

It’s a strange atmosphere. There’s insecurity and the rights of our children are violated. But we have our home and our work here so we can’t leave. And if I flee violence here, I know I will find it again elsewhere.

Different paramilitary and guerilla groups are fighting for control of Catatumbo, a region in the department where El Tarra is located. There are around 40,000 hectares of coca plantations and a number of labs where cocaine is produced in the region, strategically located along drug trafficking routes. 

These photos were taken in El Tarra, Colombia on April 29, during a peace march held after the events on April 27.