As the murderous drug kingpin fell, many took credit for the kill, but who was truly responsible for Pablo Escobar's death?
“I would rather have a grave in Colombia than a jail cell in the U.S.”
Pablo Escobar’s words, spoken out of spite for United States law enforcement, would become a reality sooner than the drug kingpin anticipated.
On December 2, 1993, Pablo Escobar was shot in the head as he attempted to flee across the rooftops of the barrio Los Olivos in his hometown of Medellín, where he had been hiding out.
The Search Bloc, a Colombian task force made up of Colombian National Police that was dedicated to locating and taking down Escobar, had been looking for the drug lord for 16 months ever since he had escaped from La Catedral prison. Finally, a Colombian electronic surveillance team intercepted a call coming from a middle-class barrio in Medellín.
The force immediately knew it was Escobar as the call had been made to his son, Juan Pablo Escobar. And, it seemed that Escobar knew they were on to him as the call was cut short. As authorities closed in, Escobar and his bodyguard Alvaro de Jesus Agudelo, known as “El Limón,” fled across the rooftops.
Their goal was a side street behind the row of houses, but they never made it. As they ran, the Search Bloc opened fire, shooting El Limón and Escobar as their backs were turned. In the end, Pablo Escobar was taken down by gunshots to the leg, torso, and a fatal shot through the ear.
“Viva Colombia!” a Search Bloc soldier screamed as the gunshots subsided. “We have just killed Pablo Escobar!”
The gory aftermath was captured in an image that’s been imprinted on history. A group of smiling Colombian police officials along with members of the Search Bloc stand over the bloody, limp body of Pablo Escobar splayed across the barrio rooftop.
The Search Bloc party immediately celebrated widely and took credit for Pablo Escobar’s death. Yet, there were rumors that Los Pepes, a vigilante group made up of enemies of Escobar, had contributed to the final showdown.
According to CIA documents released in 2008, General Miguel Antonio Gomez Padilla, the Colombian National Police director general, had worked with Fidel Castano, the paramilitary leader of Los Pepes and rival to Escobar, in a matter of intelligence collection.
However, there were also rumors that the drug lord had shot himself. Escobar’s family, in particular, refused to believe that Pablo had been brought down by the Colombian police, insisting that if he knew he was going out, he would have made sure it was on his own terms.
Escobar’s two brothers insisted that his death had been a suicide, claiming that the location of his fatal wound was proof it had been self-inflicted.
“During all the years they went after him,” one brother said. “He would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would ‘shoot himself through the ear.'”
Whether the Colombian Police didn’t want to admit Pablo Escobar’s death could have been a suicide or they were simply happy he was gone, the actual origin of the shot that killed him has never been determined. The country settled for the peace that came with knowing he was gone, rather than the potential media storm that could brew if the public found out he’d died like he’d lived –- on his own terms.