The burial of cocaine king Pablo Escobar, one of the world's most hunted criminals but a Robin Hood to his admirers, lured thousands of Colombians Friday to a cemetery so packed his wife and children couldn't get through to the coffin.
Crowds of curious onlookers and flower-bearing mourners thronged to the funeral of the ruthless cartel leader who had waged a decadelong war with the government while funneling drugs into the United States and Europe. Escobar lost his final battle Thursday, when an assault team shot and killed him and a bodyguard at a hideout in Medellin."God willing, this country may now be quieter," said 33-year-old Henry Espitia, whose younger brother, an aide to Escobar, was tortured and killed by a vigilante squad two weeks ago.
People pushed so hard to get into the mortuary to see Escobar's coffin that they shattered its windows, Caracol radio said.
The 44-year-old drug baron's family was unable to open doors of the car bringing them to the funeral because of the press of the crowd, witnesses said. Escobar's wife, son and daughter had to turn back and missed the burial, the radio said.
Military police stood with their rifles at the ready, frisking mourners, onlookers and journalists.
People yelling "Long live Escobar!" tried to break through a line of police into the cemetery. Army troops had to help control crowds so Escobar's body could be taken to the gravesite.
The burial was hasty. A Catholic priest tried saying a few prayers but gave up as the crowd pushed and shoved. Escobar's mother, Hermilda Gaviria, and several of his sisters watched quietly as the body was lowered into the ground.
Police estimated 20,000 people came to the cemetery on the outskirts of Medellin. But reporters said only about 2,000 people were at the cemetery at any one time.
Some came to satisfy their curiosity about a man who was a legend in Medellin, the industrial city where he was born and based his drug-trafficking empire.
But the killing could signal the death knell for the Medellin cocaine cartel.
Gabriel Silva, Colombia's ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with CBS in Washington on Friday that the "drug lords received yesterday a very tough message: You surrender or you are killed."
"Medellin is a fading star with the death of Escobar," said Thomas Cash, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami.
Although murderous, the Cali cartel is far less bloody than the Medellin cartel, which waged war against the general public in an attempt to get the government to let it operate freely.
Authorities tracked Escobar to his hideout through a phone call he made to a radio station Monday.
On Thursday, at least 200 members of an elite force that had been hunting him surrounded the hideout, and several troopers stormed it, investigators said.
Escobar and his bodyguard were shot to death when they opened fire, investigators said.
President Cesar Gaviria decorated the security forces who killed Escobar with the Medal of Valor, the highest police award, on Friday.