The convicts — two from Australia, one from Brazil, four from Africa and one Indonesian — made the long journey from their prison to clearings on a prison island to meet their fate early Wednesday.
But rather than bow their heads in defeat and resignation, the convicts all reportedly refused blindfolds and raised their voices in song, including a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, until the gunfire from the firing squads rang out.
The husband of Pastor Christie Buckingham, who gave spiritual guidance to one of the Australians in his final moments, said his wife told him the men conducted themselves with “dignity and strength until the end”.
“She told me the eight of them walked out onto the killing field singing songs of praise,” Rob Buckingham told 3AW radio in Australia.
Across the water in the town of Cilacap, the final crossing point for inmates destined for death on the high-security Nusakambangan island, a small band of mourners held a candlelight vigil, and also sang “Amazing Grace”.
The haunting sounds filled the night sky, drowning out the sobs of those too distressed to contemplate what was taking place in the jungle-clad hills of the prison island.
One man wailed loudly and implored Indonesian President Joko Widodo to have mercy. Another supporter read out the names of each inmate one by one.
– ‘Like a resurrection’ –
Owen Pomana, a former convict turned pastor and friend of Australian convicts Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, tried to buoy the spirits of those dwelling on the fate of the prisoners.
“Fear not, they have nothing to fear!” he declared of the condemned inmates.
Moments later, the eight inmates were dead, executed by 12-man firing squads after being tied to posts.
Just before dawn, their bodies returned from the island in coffins, some covered in embroidery.
Family members could be seen crying, ushered away by friends and supporters to begin the long journey to bury their loved ones.
Angelita Muxfeldt, the cousin of Brazilian inmate Rodrigo Gularte, wept as she was led through the large throng of onlookers by Father Charlie Burrows.
But others shed tears of joy. The family and friends of Filipina convict Mary Jane Veloso — who was moments away from being executed with the others only to be granted a reprieve — rushed to the port to embrace and express their disbelief.
Father Harold Toledano, a Filipino priest assisting the Veloso family throughout their plight, had been praying when he heard the good news.
“This is a miracle for us,” he cried, as Veloso’s lawyers and supporters celebrated. “It’s like a resurrection for us. She is alive.”
For the Chan and Sukumaran families, there was no such solace. They had lost their sons, their brothers, after begging for their lives to be spared at every possible opportunity.
“They asked for mercy, but there was none,” the family said in a statement after the executions.
They will bury their loved ones soon, but won’t be the first.
Barely had the dust settled at Cilacap port when Zainal Abidin — the sole Indonesian prisoner among the group — was laid to rest at a nearby graveyard.