By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A quiet morning along the normally tranquil Rua General Urquiza in Rio’s upscale neighborhood of Leblon was shattered early Wednesday (March 28th) as a gang of armed robbers exchanged gunfire with Military Police officers during an attempted robbery of a Lojas Americanas Express store.
The suspects fled the scene but two of the perpetrators were later apprehended in a vehicle in the Zuzu Angel tunnel heading towards São Conrado.
One officer was shot and injured in the shootout. He was taken to Miguel Couto Municipal Hospital, in Gávea. At the time of writing, his condition is unknown.
According to Military Police officials, the incident began Wednesday morning as a group of four to five armed men attempted to rob the Lojas Americanas Express store at Rua General Urquiza near Praça Antero de Quental.
They were surprised by a group of Military Police Officers on a routine patrol and the shootout ensued.
“I was inside my shop working. I think I saw four men, all armed. They shot at the police officers, got in a car and went down Rua General Urquiza with the police behind,” exclaimed the manager of a neighboring store who requested to remain anonymous.
Maria Helena Boueri, who was passing by on her way to work, immediately dove to the ground when she heard shots. “There were at least three shots,” she explained to Globo news, “I saw one of the bad guys get away on foot, he was shooting at random. I only got up when a boy came near me and said it was safe, that the shooting was over.”
The suspects were able to flee the scene, with at least two of them escaping in a white Gol.
Following the shootout, officials attempted to block possible escape routes setting up barricades at Zuzu Angel Tunnel, towards Zona Oueste, (West Zone) and Rebouças Tunnel, towards Zona Norte (North Zone). Traffic on both major arteries slowed to a crawl as police conducted vehicle searches in hopes of catching the robbers.
Eventually, the white Gol containing the two suspects was stopped in the Zuzu Angel tunnel.
“We managed to approach the car because we had closed both sides of the tunnel,” explained Officer Márcio Diogo to Globo. “The thugs opened the doors of the car and fled on foot, but we were able to get a hold of them.”
The other suspects involved in the robbery and shootout remain at large.
Despite Wednesday’s incident and the wave of crime and violence gripping Rio de Janeiro, the neighborhood of Leblon is still considered one of the most desired places to live in all of Brazil. At an average square meter of R$20,000, Leblon easily holds the distinction of having the country’s most expensive real estate.