Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira: Brazilian police find two bodies in search of missing men

Police in the Brazilian Amazon have found the bodies of two men in the area near where British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous activist Bruno Pereira disappeared 10 days ago.

At a press briefing on Wednesday evening, regional police chief Eduardo Fontes said one of the two men arrested in connection with the couple’s disappearance had confessed to killing them.

“On Tuesday he informed us where the bodies were buried and he promised to accompany us to the site today so that we could confirm where the bodies were buried,” Fontes told reporters.

The announcement brought a sad end to a 10-day search that horrified the nation and underscored the growing dangers facing those who dare to defend Brazil’s environment and indigenous communities, who have faced a historic assault. under the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Superintendent Eduardo Alexandre Fontes during a press conference in Manaus, Amazonas state. Photography: Ricardo Oliveira/AFP/Getty Images

The location identified by the suspect was 1.40 hours by boat from the river town of Atalaia do Norte and 3.1 km (1.9 miles) on foot in dense forest.

After a day-long operation, involving army, navy and police forces, the Guardian saw the bodies being removed from this area, known as Lago do Preguiça, under cover of darkness.

Escorted by army troops, they were taken by boat back up the Itaquaí River to Atalaia do Norte, where Phillips and Pereira had begun their final journey.

Dozens of residents flocked to the city’s harbor to watch officers in camouflage gear load the two black body bags into the back of a federal police vehicle, which drove off in a blaze of red and blue lights.

“We will now identify the human remains with as much dignity as possible,” Fontes said. “When the remains are proven to be those of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be released to the families.”

The news was greeted with relief by Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio.

“Although we are still awaiting final confirmations, this tragic outcome puts an end to the anxiety of not knowing where Dom and Bruno are,” she wrote in a press release. “Now we can take them home and say goodbye with love.

“Today we also begin our quest for justice. I hope the inquiries will exhaust all possibilities and provide definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible.

Demonstrators light candles outside the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) headquarters, during a demonstration against the disappearance of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips
Demonstrators light candles in front of the headquarters of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), during a demonstration against the disappearance of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips. Photography: Raphaël Alves/EPA

Fontes said search teams plan to return to the site on Thursday to locate the men’s boat. The men were last seen traveling upstream and Fontes alleged the suspects dumped the boat’s engine in the river and then filled the vessel with bags of dirt to sink.

“We are still investigating,” he said, adding that more arrests were expected. “It was a significant step forward.”

The press conference was held in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, where a series of military and police officials praised the work done, before belatedly acknowledging the role played by indigenous peoples who helped to conduct the research.

In Atalaia do Norte, Eliseio Marubo, an indigenous lawyer and close friend of Pereira said, “I feel indescribable pain because I lost a brother, I lost part of my history.

With tears streaming down his cheeks, Marubo sent a message to the families of the two men who had both sought to champion the Indigenous cause. “You are not alone,” he said. “We will walk together.”

Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, disappeared on June 5, at the end of a four-day trip down the Itaquaí River in the far west of Brazil.

Pereira was accompanying Phillips on a reporting trip for a book on sustainable development in the Amazon, but their boat did not arrive as planned in Atalaia do Norte, not far from Brazil’s border with Peru.

However, when Pereira’s friends sounded the alarm, Brazilian authorities were slow to respond and it was indigenous communities who made the first disturbing discovery on Saturday when they found backpacks, clothes and personal items belonging to both men.

Police arrested a man on Wednesday, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, but were unable to conclusively link him to their disappearance. He reportedly denied any involvement in the disappearances. Six days later they arrested his brother Oseney and charged him with “suspected aggravated murder”.

The investigation has been hampered by setbacks, from the slow response of Army and Navy search teams to the heavily criticized actions of the Brazilian Embassy in London, which Phillips’ family in the UK told United that his body had been found, only to recant. statement later.

It also comes amid widespread criticism of Brazil’s policies on the environment and the approximately 235 indigenous tribes living in Brazil.

Deforestation has soared under Bolsonaro and government agencies dedicated to protecting the environment and indigenous communities have been undermined.

Pereira was a senior official at the state indigenous foundation tasked with protecting indigenous communities, but was removed from his post at the end of 2019 after leading an operation to destroy illegal mines operating on indigenous land.

Later, he began working with indigenous rights organizations in remote areas of the rainforest to help them map their territories and protect them from invasions by miners, loggers and drug traffickers active in the region.

Late Wednesday, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in a statement that Wednesday’s news sparked “pain and outrage” and linked the crime to the dismantling of policies protecting indigenous peoples.

“Democracy and Brazil can no longer tolerate violence, hatred and disregard for the values ​​of civilization,” he said. “Bruno and Dom will live on in our memory – and in hope for a better world”.

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to support the families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. Donate here in English or here in Portuguese.

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