Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Families bury school gunman victims

Mourners lift the coffin carrying 13-year-old Laryssa Silva, one of the victims of the Rio de Janeiro school shooting (AP)

Grieving families gathered today to bury 12 children gunned down in the halls of their Rio de Janeiro school, an unheard-of act of school violence which left stunned Brazilians struggling for answers.

Ten girls and two boys between the ages of 12 and 15 were killed, most shot in the head at point-blank range by 23-year-old Wellington Oliveira, who shot himself dead after being confronted by police. At least 12 other students were injured in the shooting at the Tasso da Silveira school. Two are in grave condition.

Neighbours wandered past the school in a shocked daze today, leaving flowers along the wall of the school in western Rio's working-class Realengo neighbourhood. Twelve crosses were left along a wall outside the school, the name of each victim written on pieces of paper above them.

Officials posted the schedule for 12 funerals on the school gate. On a blackboard in the school yard, teachers left messages calling for better security in Brazil's schools. Brazilian tradition stipulates that people be buried the day after their death, and President Dilma Rousseff was expected to arrive in Rio to attend some of the funerals.

The shootings turned the school, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary, into a nightmarish scene, with bullet holes and blood marking the walls of classrooms. Witnesses said the gunman stalked the halls of the elementary school he attended himself years before, lining up most of the children he killed and shooting them in the head, one after another, as they begged for him to stop.

Oliveira took his own life after police gunfire struck his legs and sent him toppling down some stairs, but not before carrying out what crime experts said was the worst school massacre in Brazil's history. Witnesses said he entered the school armed with two pistols and an ammunition belt, shooting at students and repeatedly yelling: "I'm going to kill you all."

The motive for the attack is not clear, but authorities said the shooter left a rambling and mostly incoherent letter at the scene indicating he wanted to kill himself.

Edmar Peixoto, the deputy mayor of western Rio, said the letter also said the gunman had the Aids virus.

Oliveira's neighbours told the newspaper Jornal do Brasil they couldn't believe the quiet young man who kept his head down and stayed out of trouble was responsible for so much bloodshed.

"He was never violent; he didn't get in trouble, throw stones, or fight in the streets," said Edna de Lira Ferreira, 55. "He was just quiet, and we respected the way he was. He just stayed in his room, in front of the computer." Oliveira had been a Jehovah's Witness, like his adoptive parents and their other five children, Ms Ferreira said.

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