Tuesday, January 7, 2014
A Venezuelan beauty queen and her British ex-husband were shot and killed after their car broke down on a roadside near Puerto Cabello on Monday night.
Mónica Spear, who won the Miss Venezuela crown in 2004, and Thomas Berry, a travel company boss from London, according to his Facebook page, are believed to be the victims of an attempted robbery or kidnapping in one of the world's most dangerous countries.
Their bodies – along with their injured five-year-old daughter Maya, who is now receiving hospital treatment – were found in a Toyota Corolla that had apparently broken down on the way from Puerto Cabello to Valencia.
Reflecting the high profile of Spear, President Nicolás Maduro made a statement on the killing, saying it reflected wider problems. "It is very sad to hear of the loss of this young woman … It is a problem of social violence," he said.
After giving up her beauty crown, Spear became a successful TV presenter and telenovela, or soap, actor.
The couple divorced in 2013, but remained on good terms and kept close ties with Venezuela. Berry's Irish father lives in Caracas, where he was a professor of mathematics at Simón Bolívar University for several decades before his retirement.
Spear had returned to Venezuela from her new home in Miami for a working holiday. In an earlier interview, she said she had moved to the US due to fears of crime in her home country. Spear was due to return to Miami later this week.
Her recent tweets suggest she had been enjoying the trip. Berry's Facebook photos show the couple have travelled extensively.
Police are investigating the deaths and have sealed off the area. According to the local broadcasters Globovision and Union Radio, detectives are working on the assumption that the car's engine malfunctioned, forcing them to wait by the road for the arrival of a tow truck. Opportunistic thieves then attempted to rob them and started shooting when the couple resisted.
Local reports said Berry, 39, was shot in the chest while his former partner suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Their bodies were taken to a morgue in Valencia, which is about 110 miles west of Caracas.
The couple's daughter is in a stable condition after treatment for a bullet wound to her leg. Her grandparents were said to be with her in hospital.
Spear's death has shocked her many fans. Her Twitter account has more than 355,000 followers, many of whom posted messages of condolence to her family and expressed anger at the killers.
"I'm so sad for my Venezuela, my condolences for Mónica Spear's family. Rage and impotence are what I feel right now," wrote Venezuelan salsa singer Oscar D'León.
The minister for communications, Delcy Rodríguez, tweeted her condolences and promised the "full weight of the law" would be used to find the perpetrators.
Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world with more killings than the United States and Europe combined, according to one estimate.
The Venezuelan Violence Observatory said the rate had risen fourfold in the past 15 years. The NGO estimates that 24,763 killings occurred in 2013, pushing up the homicide rate to 79 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The government says the rate is about half this level, though that would still make Venezuela more dangerous than many warzones.
Polls consistently show violent crime to be the main concern of voters. President Maduro has declared it his top priority, but several previous campaigns to improve public safety have failed to halt the worsening of the situation.
Henrique Viloria, a radio host, who announced the deaths, said the government needed to pay more attention to the issue of crime and place less emphasis on handing out electronic goods – a reference to the military-imposed discounts at shops before Christmas.