LA CEIBA, Honduras — Lucio Adan Nelson dozed on a riverboat ferrying him home from a visit with his mother when helicopters appeared overhead and started shooting. He and about a dozen other passengers traveling in the middle of the night jumped into the water for cover.
The young Honduran man was hit in the arm and back, but says he couldn't seek help.
"I had to stay in the water for some time because they kept shooting," he said Sunday from a hospital bed.
Honduran police, who with DEA agents were aboard U.S. helicopters for an anti-drug operation, have said they were shooting at drug traffickers who fired first from a boat in the Patuca River in the remote Mosquitia region near the Caribbean coast.
Local officials say four innocent people died in the incident May 11. Honduran police say they can't confirm that, saying the anti-drug team didn't find any casualties after the shooting but only an empty boat with nearly a half ton of cocaine.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents never fired during the operation, acting only in an advisory role, both U.S. and Honduran officials say.
Honduran military intelligence is investigating, but no one has talked to Nelson, 22.
He could hardly speak from the pain Sunday, more than a week after the shooting, as he recovered in the hospital in La Ceiba where he was flown for treatment.
Elsewhere in the hospital lay 14-year-old Willmer Lucas Walter, who had a hand amputated because of injuries from the shooting.
The Honduran teenager's mother, Sabina Romero, said she was too angry to speak about what happened.
"Here nobody is going to talk because they will kill you," she said. "The only help we need here is from doctors, not from reporters."
Nelson's uncle, Dany, 32, helped tell the story for his nephew, who speaks mostly Miskito, the language of the indigenous who have lived in the isolated region for centuries.
Nelson has been awaiting surgery to put pins in his lower arm.
He and Willmer were flown from Ahuas, a community of less than 2,000 people, by the Moravian Church, said Dany Nelson, a health technician who works for the Honduran government on malaria prevention.
They both arrived unaccompanied and with IV bags attached to their arms, said Luis Savillon, the taxi driver who picked them up at the airport.
Nelson said he was returning to Barra Patuca, a community of about 6,000 on the Caribbean coast, after visiting his mother in a tiny river community when the shooting occurred about 3 a.m. He managed to pull himself ashore alongside Willmer, and waited there until the helicopters left.
He said he never saw any police on the ground. National Police Chief Ricardo Ramirez del Cid has said officers rappelled to the spot from the helicopters after the shooting.
Nelson said he and Willmer started walking in the dark and came upon a house. A woman there walked with them to the clinic in nearby Ahuas. Dany Nelson said he was called by the clinic at 5:30 a.m.
Initial reports from local officials said the people killed by the shooting were diving for lobster and shellfish.
Honduran and U.S. officials have voiced doubts about whether people with legitimate business would be traveling the river at night in a heavy drug-trafficking area. President Porfirio Lobo said many in the impoverished indigenous community transport the cocaine that comes in on illicit airplanes from South America to its next destination on the coast.
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