SCANDAL | 7/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Plot against a beauty queen
SEMANA magazine began an in depth investigation to discover who was behind the acid attack that scarred Maria Fernanda Gutierrez, Cucuta’s beauty queen. The name of another candidate is involved.
In the days following the June 10 attack, a cloud of national and international journalists flocked to Cucuta, close to the northeast border with Venezuela, and held guard in front of Maria Fernanda’s home waiting for a chance to speak with her and register on camera the evolution of her wounds. The Spanish service of CNN, TV show Séptimo Día and this magazine were the first to speak with the candidate, who is recovering in a room with regulated temperature and lighting in order to minimize potential scars.
The local pageant was put on hold and two other candidates withdrew their aspirations in solidarity to Maria Fernanda. The Miss Colombia directives granted an extended period to see if Mafe, as she is known, is able to recover and go to Cartagena in November. The police offered a 10 million pesos (around 5.000 dollars) reward for any information relating to the case and Cucuta’s locals filled the streets and marched in indignation against the attack on the queen. “We need results and assurance that this crime will not go unpunished” says Eduardo Maldonado, Maria Fernanda’s manager since she was 7 and started her career as a child model. Since then, with her family’s support, she has conquered every important title in the industry: Niña Bonita, Miss Belleza Juvenil Norte de Santander and Miss Belleza Juvenil Colombia. Last year she placed second in the local pageant; yet nobody understood the jury’s decision and they persuaded her to run again this year. Those who know her describe her as the girl next door who has not changed in the face of success. Parallel to her modeling obligations, she also studied Civil Engineering. Her preparation, on top of her personal attributes, made her everyone’s favorite to be crowned as Miss Cucuta on June 11th. But someone got in the way of her crowning moment.
Two weeks after the attack, everyone is still wondering who is responsible for the infamous attack and what could have possibly motivated them. In the streets of Cucuta all sorts of stories were concocted: that the sinister attack had been planned by local mafias, that a crazy townsmen was to be held responsible, and even that everything had been orchestrated by an entrepreneur form the beauty industry. SEMANA dug deeper and found the main elements that are helping local authorities in the formal investigation.
It started on the same night of the attack. Around 11:30 p.m, Maria Fernanda was returning from the last rehearsal before the election of Señorita Norte de Santander.
She jumped out of the car and went ahead to open the door of her house while her parents finished parking. In that precise moment, a young and chubby man approached and surprised her. When she turned around, she was showered with a liquid that made her and her parents enter a state of hysteria. Her screams ignited the neighborhood alarms, but the aggressor, after spraying her with a liquid he kept in a plastic soda bottle, was able to get away. He ran around the block and was greeted by another man in a motorcycle with a covered license plate. They fled, leaving no other trace than the soda bottle.
Maria Fernanda, wrapped in a white cloud due to the corrosive reaction of the acid on her skin, quickly entered her home and as fast as she could, got under the shower. She let abundant water fall on her skin while she tried to understand what had just happened. According to the doctors, removing the acid form her skin with water to minimize exposure time was the best thing she could have done. “That liquid did not let me breath, I felt a horrible burning sensation, like if something was tearing inside…I glanced at myself in the mirror and saw that the right side of my face was all white, my lips and chest were also scorched” she says. She was then taken to the hospital, where she received medical attention. Since then she has visited several specialists, from surgeons to psychologists.
Her recovery has surpassed all expectations. Today, the affected areas of her face have a slight shade from the rest of her face. Yet, she does not allow photographs. Experts say that if all goes well, she will not have any scars after recovery is completed. Her blurry vision in her right eye is one of her biggest concerns, but the ophthalmologist has assured her she will recuperate her vision completely. “I thought it was going to be much worse but because exposure time to the acid was short, it wasn’t. They tried to scar me permanently but thank God, they couldn’t.”
An interdisciplinary group of Cucuta’s Metropolitan police force analyzed the garments Maria Fernanda was wearing on the day of the attack in search of clues. They determined the element that was sprayed on her was hydrochloric liquid acid, a material of restricted commercialization. With that information, they found out what chemical stores were authorized to sell the material in Cucuta. Shortly, they found an unusual buyer in the registries of one of the stores. He had specifically requested to buy two bottles of the acid for dry cleaning purposes, even though the salesman insisted the product could not be used for those purposes.
The suspect is Fabian Saez Ibáñez, a young man who identified himself with his I.D at the time of purchasing the chemical product on June 10th. Saez is a couple with Yesid Ramon Gómez, a male cousin of Carolina Gómez Gómez, one of the eight candidates that along with Mafe, were competing to become Señorita Norte de Santander to represent to province in Cartagena. Carolina Gomez, another favorite, is a 23 year old telecommunications engineer who represents the small town of El Carmen. People from inside the beauty world describe her as a disciplined and impeccable young lady.
The authorities have evidence that proves the Saez-Gomez couple actively sponsored Carolina’s aspiration. Various witnesses have declared against them as well. Until now, it is impossible to prove that Carolina Gomez was aware of her cousin’s intentions. She categorically affirms her whole family, and not just her cousin, has been helping her during her candidacy. “I am overwhelmed with this information. The only thing I can say is that I am not suspicious of my cousin or his boyfriend” she concludes.
The Prosecutor’s Office is waiting for a full medical report from Legal Medicine to determine the degree of harm caused to Maria Fernanda, to whom a preliminary medical examination has already been done. It reported minor injuries and a 20 day rest period. According to the Colombian Penal Code, with this report it is impossible to issue arrest warrants. With the final report, the authorities plan to have a public hearing with all possible suspects. Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing.
For now, the researchers are working towards determining who was responsible for the attack on the beauty queen, whether directly or indirectly. “Who could possibly benefit from Maria Fernanda’s absence in the competition?“ asks one of them.