The beginning of the Miss World competition is usually a festive time, as beauty queens from more than 120 countries get together for receptions and parties, and begin competing in preliminary categories.
But things will be different this year.
On Sunday, the contestants will attend a somber memorial ceremony for Miss Honduras, Maréa José Alvarado, 19, who was found shot to death on Nov. 18. Her sister, Soféa Trinidad, was also killed.
The sudden and violent loss has shocked the pageant organizers. “We are devastated by this terrible loss of two young women who were so full of life,” Miss World Chairman Julia Morley told PEOPLE in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Maréa José Alvarado and Soféa Trinidad at this time of grief.”
On Nov. 13, the night before Alvarado planned to fly to London for the pageant, she joined her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, at La Aguagua, a high-end spa in the Santa Barbara province of Honduras. Alvarado, who worked as a model on a local game show, had already packed her evening gown and traditional dress costumes for the trip.
She and her sister were never seen again. Five days later, their bodies were found in shallow graves near the spa.
Ruiz, 28, quickly became the main suspect in their deaths. According to National Police Director Gen. Ramon Sabillion, a heated argument broke out on the night of Nov. 13 between Ruiz and Trinidad. Police say that Ruiz pulled out a gun, firing first at his girlfriend and then at Alvarado as she tried to flee, hitting her twice in the back.
According to police, the bodies were found on Wednesday morning when Ruiz led investigators to the remote gravesite. Police suspect that Ruiz had an accomplice in the burial of their bodies.
Friends and family are now mourning the two women. “My daughters were trusting and naive,” their mother, Teresa Munoz, told Honduran TV Network Televicentro. “They were not astute about assessing the people around them. They were just friendly. They were going out with people they hadn’t known very long.”
Miss Honduras pageant organizers say that the country will not send a delegate to the Miss World pageant this year.
And despite their excitement for the pageant, other contestants have expressed their sadness at Alvarado’s death. “Please pray for the family of Miss World Honduras as they go through a very difficult time,” Miss United States Elizabeth Safrit posted on Facebook. “I will be thinking of Maria Jose Alvarado and the entire country of Honduras during my time at Miss World.”
“This is a terrible occurrence and certainly an outcry to focus on how to prevent violence like this in the future,” she also wrote. “Let’s pray for justice for Maria and her sister. May they rest in peace.”
• With reporting by ADRIENNE BARD