14 killed in shoot-out with police during double bank robbery in small Brazil town
- Five of the dead were members of the same family who were taken hostage by the gang and included two children aged 14 and 13
At least 14 people, including six hostages, were killed early on Friday in a shoot-out between police and bank robbers trying to blow up cash machines at two banks in a small town in northeastern Brazil, authorities said.
Most of the deaths occurred when police opened fire on the robbers on the main street in Milagres in the central Ceara state, a statement by the governor’s office said.
Five of the alleged gang members died in the nighttime shoot-out soon after 2am, two died in hospital from bullet wounds and an eighth was gunned down while being chased by police, it said.
Six people who were taken hostage on a local highway died in the shoot-out, the statement said. It said three suspects have been arrested.
Five of the dead hostages were members of the same family and included two children aged 14 and 13, local mayor Lielson Landim, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Secretary for security in the state of Ceara, Andre Costa, said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out to identify those killed and the circumstances of their deaths.
Costa did not say whose bullets killed the hostages. Landim had earlier said that, based on initial information, he understood that “the criminals killed the hostages and the police killed the criminals”.
“A heavily armed group arrived in the town in the early hours and went to the centre of town, where they tried to commit the crime. There was an exchange of fire between the suspects and police,” said Costa’s office.
Various weapons and explosives as well as three vehicles used in the bank assaults were recovered.
The gang had launched simultaneous assaults on two banks on the same street in Milagres – population 28,000.
According to the G1 news website, the robbers had blocked a street with a truck and stopped the car carrying the family, which included relatives who had just arrived on a flight from Sao Paulo to celebrate Christmas with them.
G1 said the robbers “executed” the hostages when police turned up. It said some of the gang managed to escape.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. I stayed inside my home, cowering and afraid,” a local resident, Mendonca de Santa Helena, told media. “I heard people yelling and crying. It was horrible.”
Shaken by the violence, the municipality of Milagres suspended most of its activities on Friday and asked residents to stay at home “until order is restored”.
Brazil is one of the most violent countries in the world, with nearly 64,000 murders last year – a murder rate of 30.8 per 100,000 inhabitants that is three times higher than the level the United Nations considers to be endemic violence.
On January 1, a far-right politician promising a relentless crackdown on crime, Jair Bolsonaro, will become Brazil’s new president following his election in October.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters