The murderous crime wave that has engulfed Venezuela took Maria Elena Delgado's 15-year-old son. Then her 12-year-old boy. And mercilessly, a third 40-year-old son.
"I wanted to set the slum on fire," said the 57-year-old mother of seven, who lives in one of the red-brick houses of the populous Petare "barrio" of Caracas.
"But I told myself, 'My God, violence generates violence, I can't do this because my children will get into trouble,'" she said.
Ending such senseless tragedies will be the main challenge facing the winner of Sunday's election between President Hugo Chavez and opposition rival Henrique Capriles.
Capriles has accused Chavez, in power for almost 14 years, of failing to reduce the violence in Venezuela and promised to make crime reduction a priority if he upsets the leftist leader on Sunday.
Venezuela has become the most violent country in South America, with 50 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year, a total of 14,092 murders, according to official figures.
But the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental organization, says the rate has reached 67 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Delgado's 15-year-old son Erasmo was killed when gangs used him as a human shield during a fight. A year later, 12-year Norka was hit in the head by a stray bullet as he crossed the street. Wilmer, 40, died when he was hit by a bullet in the face as he alighted from a bus.
The woman also lost a nephew and grandson who were murdered during robberies in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Between three and four people are murdered every day in Petare, victims of gang feuds over drugs, weapons or territory, a police officer, Gualter Pereira, told AFP during a night patrol in the dangerous slum.
"We do what we can," Pereira said, complaining that "criminals have better weapons" than the police.
The bodies of crime victims are delivered every day at the Petare morgue, the facility's manager Jose Zamora said. Most are suspected criminals with bullet wounds.
"They rob a person and if the person has no money, they kill this person. They kidnap someone, get a ransom and still kill the hostage," Zamora said. "There is no logical explanation for this."
"The more social inequality there is, the more violence there will be," he added.
Unlike other Latin American countries, Venezuela is not in the throes of a drug war or battling guerrillas. But most crimes in Venezuela are committed with guns.
Between nine and 15 million legal and illegal weapons are in circulation in Venezuela, a country of almost 29 million people, according to official figures from 2009.
In Petare, Delgado said, "a lot of people carry weapons" and use them to solve "every problem."
Chavez has admitted that the country is experiencing a "serious" problem. The government created a national police force in 2009, and last year it launched special security operations and a disarmament program.
Roberto Briceno, director of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, doubted the effectiveness of the government's response and said that it is more than just a problem of social inequality.
The weakness of judicial institutions and the high rate of impunity are at play too, he said.
"What is happening in Venezuela is that we haven't had the political will to apply the law," he said, adding that the country needs to make it clear that "those who violate the law will be punished."
He also criticized the belligerent rhetoric used by Chavez, who "says that this is a peaceful revolution, but an armed one."
Delgado has witnessed the failures of the judicial system. Several people were arrested after her sons were killed, but all were later released.
"It was the power of money," she said. "You pay, I let you go free."