British journalist Dom Phillips and his Brazilian guide, whose disappearance in the Amazon some two weeks ago sparked an international outcry, were killed by gunfire, Brazilian police said Saturday.
A day after investigators identified remains found buried in a remote part of the Amazon as those of Phillips, officials said a second set of remains belonged to his guide, indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.
Authorities said both men were gunshot victims – Phillips, 57, struck by a single shot to the chest, Pereira, 41, by three shots, one to the head – with ammunition typically used for hunting.
Pereira, an outspoken defender of Indigenous rights, had received multiple death threats.
The two men went missing on June 5 in an isolated part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.
Ten days later, a suspect took police to a place near the city of Atalaia do Norte in western Amazonas state, where he said he had buried bodies. Soon after, the suspect’s brother was also detained.
Police on Saturday said an additional suspect in the case, whom they identified as Jefferson da Silva Lima, also known as “Pelado da Dinha,” had turned himself in at the police station in Atalaia do Norte.
Commissioner Alex Perez Timoteo told news site G1 that evidence and testimony collected so far indicated that the suspect “was at the scene of the crime and actively participated in the double homicide that occurred.”
Timoteo also told reporters it is “fairly likely” there could be further arrests in the case in the coming days.
“We are going to try to understand whether there was a previous agreement (among the suspects), if they had been planning this situation,” the commissioner said, adding that the third suspect was not related to the two brothers.
Police had said Friday they believed the perpetrators had “acted alone, without there being an intellectual author or criminal organization behind the crime.”
Activists have blamed the killings on President Jair Bolsonaro for allowing commercial exploitation of the Amazon at the cost of the environment and law and order.
For his part, Bolsonaro sought to lay blame at the door of the men themselves for undertaking a “reckless” trip in an area where Phillips was “disliked.”
‘Not just two killers’
Phillips, a longtime contributor to several leading international newspapers, including the British newspaper The Guardian, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon with Pereira as his guide.
Pereira, an expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners with their eye on isolated Indigenous land.
The Univaja association of indigenous peoples, which had taken part in the search for the men, rejected the police’s conclusion that the killers had acted alone.
“These are not just two killers, but an organised group that planned the crime in detail,” Univaja said in a statement.
The group claimed authorities had ignored numerous complaints about the activities of criminal gangs in the area.
Brazilian representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists Renata Neder said it was “rash” and “concerning” that police have said so early in the investigation that the killers acted alone.
“In Brazil there is a historical pattern that in cases of killings of journalists and human-rights defenders, when there is an investigation, only the executors are brought to justice, but very rarely the mastermind,” she told AFP.