“We would have no way of getting to this place quickly without the confessions,” Torres said of the location where police recovered human remains on Wednesday after being led there by Pelado.
Torres said the remains were to be identified within days, and if confirmed to be the missing men, “would be returned to the families of both.”
“We found the bodies three kilometers (nearly two miles) into the woods,” the investigator said, adding that officers traveled about an hour and forty minutes by boat down a river and another 25 into the woods to reach the burial site.
Pelado’s family previously said he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him in an attempt to extract a confession.
Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas State Police, said the missing men’s boat has not yet been found, but police know the area where it was believed to have been hidden by those involved in the crime.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat to make it sink,” he said. The boat’s engine was removed, investigators said.
The press conference at Brazil’s federal police headquarters in Manaus also included military leaders, who joined the effort to find Phillips and Pereira days after they were reported missing.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and indigenous experts, has drawn criticism for the government not getting involved fast enough. Earlier Wednesday, he slammed Phillips in an interview, saying without proof that people in the area where he disappeared didn’t like him and that he should have been more careful in the area.
Efforts to find both were spearheaded by the indigenous peoples of the region. UNIVAJA, an association of indigenous peoples in the Javari Valley, lamented the loss of “two partners” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that they only had the help and protection of local police.
As federal police announced they would hold a press conference, Pereira’s colleagues called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the agency.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance to the Javari Valley indigenous territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. This area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
The developments began on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they did not identify at the time down the river to search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira.
An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the town closest to the search area, saw police take the suspect, who was in a balaclava, away.
On Tuesday, police said they arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and brother of Pelado, whom police had previously named as the prime suspect.
Police investigators said Wednesday that de Oliveira had confessed to no involvement in the crime, but added that they had evidence against him.
Natives who were with Pereira and Phillips said Pelado brandished a gun at them the day before the couple disappeared.
Official search teams have focused their efforts around a spot on the Itaquai River where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found on Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group.
Authorities began searching the area and on Sunday discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater. Police said that evening they had identified the items as belonging to the two missing men, including a health card and Pereira’s clothing. The backpack reportedly belonged to Phillips.
Police previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found apparent human-made organic material in the river which was sent for analysis.
Authorities said one of the main lines of the police investigation into the disappearance has exposed an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley Reserve, which is the second largest territory. native to Brazil.
Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the indigenous federal agency, known as FUNAI, has been involved in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only natives can legally fish on their territories.
“The motive for the crime is a personal quarrel over the fisheries inspection,” speculated the mayor of Atalaia do Norte, Denis Paiva, to reporters without providing further details.
While some police officers, the mayor and others in the area associate the couple’s disappearances with the “fish mafia”, federal police have not ruled out other avenues of investigation, such as narcotics trafficking.
Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he couldn’t discuss the details of the investigation.
“We are working with several lines of investigation,” he said.
After the news of the human remains’ recovery, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the discovery “put an end to the angst of not knowing where Dom and Bruno were.”
“Now we can take them home and say goodbye with love,” Sampaio said in a statement. “Today we also begin our quest for justice.”
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