THE BOY WITHOUT A COUNTRY Donato: `They never knocked' Man who saved Elian describes government's violent Easter raid
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"They never knocked," said Donato Dalrymple, the man who scooped Elian Gonzalez from the sea last year. "They never announced and then waited for 20 seconds." Nor did they present a warrant.
What if they had knocked?
"I would have opened the door to be honest with you," said Dalrymple. But there was no knock. They just came in with a battering ram and started busting up the house.
They were machine-gun toting agents of the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to seize a six-year-old boy at gunpoint as he slept in his great-uncle's house.
In an interview with the editors of Human Events last Thursday, Donato Dalrymple, the 40-year-old operator of a Fort Lauderdale house-cleaning service, described what he saw inside the home of Lazaro Gonzalez when it was raided by federal agents in the wee morning hours of Easter Saturday.
Along with his cousin Sam Ciancio, a sport fisherman, Dalrymple discovered Elian Gonzalez clinging almost lifeless to an inner tube as it bobbed in the waters off Miami last Thanksgiving.
The boy had been at sea for four days. He had seen his mother, her boyfriend and both of the boyfriend's parents drown.
Their quest had been to reach America and freedom risking all to escape Fidel Castro's tyranny. But of all the family members who had embarked from the city of Cardenas, Cuba, in a homemade aluminum boat, only Elian had made it.
Many in Miami's Cuban community considered his survival an act of God a miracle. Donato Dalrymple was there when the miracle was consummated just off the Florida coast and he was there the moment the Clinton Justice Department turned it into a nightmare in a two-bedroom Miami bungalow.
In the months since he had found Elian at sea, Dalrymple had developed a bond with the boy as well as with the Florida branch of the Gonzalez clan that had taken custody of him in Miami. Almost every day, he would break off work at about 4 p.m., so he could visit the Gonzalez house and play with the boy.
Every day at 8 p.m., like clockwork, great-uncle Lazaro would send Elian off to bed, but Dalrymple often would hang around chatting with family members for an hour or two, then drive home to Fort Lauderdale.
On Good Friday, however, he was too tired from work to make the trip to Little Havana. Arriving home, he drifted off to sleep on a couch. Then at 10 p.m., he awoke to hear an alarming bulletin on the radio: The Justice Department would likely take custody of Elian within 24 hours.
Dalrymple dressed quickly, jumped in his car, and headed to the Gonzalez home. "My soul was tearful," he said. "I was broken on the inside as I was driving down there never turned on the radio, just praying." He wanted to say goodbye to Elian before the government took him away.
He arrived in Little Havana at about 10:30 p.m., parked a few blocks from the house, and requested permission from the Miami police to pass through the barricades. Inside the home, he was surprised to find the mood optimistic, not gloomy.
Two of Elian's lawyers, Manny Diaz and Kendall Coffey, were out on the back porch negotiating with the Justice Department on the time, place and manner of reuniting Elian and the entire Gonzalez clan with the father Juan Miguel. Armando Gutierrez, the family spokesman, was shuttling back and forth between the porch and the adjacent dining room to brief family members not all of whom can speak English on how the negotiations were going. Elian was asleep in his bed in the room he shared with his cousin Marisleysis.
Dalrymple chatted with some family members and friends in the living room for about a half hour, then went outside to join what amounted to the perpetual prayer vigil beyond the barricades. At that hour, he says, there were about 1,000 to 1,500 people on the scene. Between prayers, the rumor running through the crowd was that plans were being made for the family to be reunited somewhere near Washington, D.C.
At 4:30 a.m., he returned to the house, entering through the back door into the dining room. The immediate family members were in the room huddled around the lawyers who were still on the phones negotiating with Washington. So Dalrymple headed through the kitchen and into the darkened front area of the home. Elian who had slept for about eight hours before being awakened by all the activity inside and outside the house was now lying on a sofa at the back wall of the living room, the wall nearest the kitchen and dining room. Another family member or friend was sleeping on the sofa along the wall to the right. So Dalrymple went to a third sofa, which was up against the front wall of the house, immediately beside the front door. Soon Lazaro came in from the kitchen, laid down on the couch with Elian, and began speaking with him in Spanish. After awhile, Lazaro got back up and returned to the kitchen.
"The next thing, I was in a dead sleep," said Dalrymple. About half an hour later, he woke again when he heard noises outside the house. "I heard the rustling of what I call the foot soldiers," he said. "Then you heard screaming and yelling like bloody murder and people screaming, `Get down, get down, we'll shoot.'
"I jumped up when I heard those words and said, `Oh, my God.' Now, Elian was right in front of me and he was screaming. My natural instinct was to run to him and sweep him up in my arms, and I said to myself, `My God, where do we go?'
"In front of me, I just heard people screaming," he said. "I saw Marisleysis. I saw Lazaro. They were all trying to run for Elian, and then Elian was in my arms.
"I ran into the bedroom. They were coming in from the back and they were coming in from the front.
"The photographer made his way into the house with the agents. Then one of the guys from the family took him by the back and just threw him into the room where we were, and then, boom, the door slammed.
"You were waiting to hear boom, boom, boom, shots," said Dalrymple.
Four others had made it into the closed bedroom with Dalrymple and Elian: Lazaro's wife Angela, her niece, the niece's young son, and Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz.
As Dalrymple, holding the now-terrified Elian, tried to wedge himself into a cramped closet, the niece and her son scrambled around to the right side of the bed and Angela stood her ground to the right of the closed door. Photographer Diaz wedged himself up against the back wall of the room in the narrow space between the left side of the bed and the closet.
"I was trying to get into the closet as much as I could, but there was no way to go," said Dalrymple. "So I asked [Diaz], is there a way out of here? Can we do something? And he said, `Donato, just relax, there's no way out. This is it, man.'"
Beyond the closed door there was a minute of chaos.
"You heard everything being trashed. People screaming. And the sound of shoosh, shoosh. There was pepper spray in the house." Then the federal agents were at the bedroom door.
"I heard bam, one, then, bam, two," said Dalrymple. "They were hitting the door with a battering ram. The door broke right in half and came down, and these guys rustled into the room. And the guy who had the gun just like that [gesturing to his chest] says, `Don't move, don't move. Give me the kid. Give me the kid.'
"The next guy had his gun on the other kid.
"I said, `Don't hurt the boy, don't hurt the boy.' Then there was this lady with like a towel or a blanket or a pillow case or something who came in," said Dalrymple. "Elian you've seen the face on him was screaming.
"The soldier and the lady snatched the boy and they threw the blanket over him," says Dalrymple. "And then we're going out. And maybe it was stupid or not, but I followed as the guy was backing out of the room with the gun on me."
Did that lady say anything when she grabbed Elian? "She never said a word that I know of," said Dalrymple. "She was like the silent devil standing there."
The soldier was yelling at him and Elian in English, not Spanish, he said.
"We are actually in the hallway now," said Dalrymple, "and he's backing out and he's still got the gun on me and he's backing out slowly, with the women behind him, surrounded by three or four armed guys. And they went down the stairs outside, and they fell down, hit the bushes, dropped the kid, picked him up, and ran toward the fence that was already knocked down, and made their way to the vehicle, and I'm following them all the way, pleading with them."
But was there no knock on the door?
"There was no knocking," said Dalrymple, who was right by the door. "I would have answered it."
"If you walked into that house, it was a living shrine. Well-wishers had come with more Mother Marys and Sacred Heart of Jesus pictures. ... It was like a church in there," he said. "They trashed the house."
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