By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The country is shaken by a tragic shooting at the Municipal School Tasso da Silveira in Rio de Janeiro’s western Realengo area of Zona Oeste (West zone). A gunman killed nine girls and one boy between the ages of 12 and 14. Thirteen children are being treated in various hospitals, four of which are in critical condition.
The gunman is identified as 23-year-old Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, a former student at the school. Around 8:30AM, he entered the school saying he was going to give a workshop.
He then walked into a classroom where forty students in the eighth grade were studying Portuguese, an eyewitness told Brazilian TV: “Without a word he took out a pistol from his bag and started firing, aiming at victims’ heads.” He reportedly had two handguns and a lot of ammunition.
Teachers who heard the gunfire rapidly gathered their students in the school auditorium on the top floor. They barricaded the doors with tables and chairs to keep the gunman out, until the police arrived.
An eyewitness tells: “The police came and he tried to go up to the next floor but they surrounded him and shot him.” It’s still unclear whether Oliveira was killed by the police or if he killed himself.
In a letter explaining the reasons for his violent act, Oliveira confirms he planned the shooting and gives strict instructions on his funeral: “… no unpure person may touch me without gloves, only virgins or those who have lost their chastity after marriage, and were not involved in adultery may touch me without gloves.” He also writes he left a bag in the school holding a sheet in which he wants to be buried in.
A crowd of parents, family members, friends, neighbors and press arrived at the school shortly after the shooting. Many children were seen walking around in shock. One of the victim’s father said he was disgusted by the lack of security at the school, ”How can a man enter a school, go through two locked gates and no one asked to identify himself?”
Governor Sergio Cabral arrived at the school as well to see first hand the aftermath of what had happened. During a quickly organized press conference he called the shooter “an animal and a psychopath.” He ordered seven days of mourning in Rio de Janeiro.
Although Rio de Janeiro is infamous for its violence, never in the history of the city has a shooting of this kind has happened. The tragedy strongly reminds the people of Rio of Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado, 1999, where two students killed thirteen people on the school campus before they committed suicide.
“These things don’t happen in Brazil, they happen in the United States,” says 17-year-old high school student Carlos, adding, “I’ve seen a lot of violence in my short life, but never something like this. I am shocked it happened here.”
President Dilma Rousseff asked for a minute of silence during an event she was attending, when she was informed about the tragedy at Realengo. Rousseff became emotional and said she was disgusted by the act of violence against defenseless children. She canceled the rest of her program and got on the phone with the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes.