Rufina Amaya, Survivor of the El Mozote Massacre Rufina Amaya died last week. She was one of the few survivors who spoke out after the Salvadoran Army's infamous 1981 massacre of villagers in El Mozote. New York Times reporter Ray Bonner remembers her role in telling the village's story.

Rufina Amaya, Survivor of the El Mozote Massacre

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The woman who spent two and a half decades telling the world about the Salvadoran Army slaughter of her village has died. Rufina Amaya was 64 years old and she died of a stroke. On December 11th 1981, Salvadoran Army units killed more than 800 people in and around the village of El Mozote. Rufina Amaya's husband and four children were among those killed.

The news of the massacre did not appear until it was reported a month later by Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post and Raymond Bonner of the New York Times. They traveled to the scene of the massacre with Salvadoran Guerillas and along with a photographer Susan Meiselas.

Raymond Bonner joins us by phone from Oxford, England. And Ray, thanks for being with us.

Mr. RAY BONNER (Reporter, New York Times): It's always a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: I want to read from that dispatch that you filed...

Mr. BONNER: All right.

SIMON: (Reading) It was a great massacre, 38-year-old Rufina Amaya told a visitor who traveled through the area with those who were fighting against the junta who now rules El Salvador. They left nothing. Somewhere amid the carnage were Mrs. Amaya's husband, who was blind; her 9-year-old son; and three daughters, age five years, three years and eight months.

Mrs. Amaya said she heard her son scream: Mama, they're killing me. They've killed my sister. They're going to kill me. She said that when the soldiers began gathering the women into a group, she escaped and hid behind some trees in the back of the houses.

This is a woman, who - I don't - words escape me, she survived something worse than the worst nightmare any human being can have. What do you remember of her manner?

Mr. BONNER: Her manner was very quiet, very understated in a way. There was something so simple about her and in her simplicity, what she did was give it a human face, a human voice, and I don't think she'd been coached. You can tell, as a journalist, when somebody has been coached. When their answers are pat, you know, you just don't ask one question, you ask a lot of question. And then when you saw it with yourself, you saw the bodies, you saw the massacre, you saw the skulls, you saw the carnage - it all fit.

SIMON: You reported this story and she came forward and spoke to you and Alma and Susan Meiselas at that time when Salvadoran government denied that that had happened.

Mr. BONNER: Not only the Salvadoran government, the U.S. government.

SIMON: Yeah. Did Rufina Amaya take her life in her hands when she talked to you?

Mr. BONNER: Probably, but I doubt if she knew it. She was - why wouldn't I tell the story? This is what happened. There was nothing political about - look, you can tell people. There were people who took me in on that trip. I mean, it was so clear that some of them had a political agenda. They didn't take me in there without a political agenda, and I don't think I ever put them in the story, but there was something about her that was very, very genuine.

SIMON: When Rufina Amaya died we read some accounts in the United States that she's given an honored place in the history of El Salvador now, for speaking when she did.

Mr. BONNER: Right. She deserves it. She spoke out.

SIMON: Did that massacre change public opinion?

Mr. BONNER: No. I think the killing of the American churchwomen in December of '80 had more of an impact on policy than the massacre of 700 Salvadorans. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of Salvadorans that had already been killed in that war or in Guatemala? But it was when these four American churchwomen were killed, the three nuns and the other woman, that it become a big story in America.

SIMON: Ray, thank you very much.

Mr. BONNER: Not at all.

SIMON: Raymond Bonner of the New York Times speaking with us from Oxford, England.

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