Police kill man who held bus passengers hostage in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brandishing a fake gun, a man on Tuesday took dozens of hostages on a bus in Brazil and threatened to set the vehicle on fire with gasoline before police shot him dead in a four-hour standoff broadcast live on television.
All of the hostages were freed unharmed in the confrontation, which unfolded on a 13-kilometer-long (8-mile-long) bridge linking Rio de Janeiro to the Niteroi municipality across Guanabara Bay.
The seized bus was coming from Sao Gonçalo, a community struggling with poverty and violence that lies across a bay. Many people use the bridge to travel to and from work in Rio, and hundreds of vehicles were backed up as police closed lanes and tried to get control of the dangerous situation.
Police initially said the man had a gun and a knife. Later, however, Lt. Col. Maurilio Nunes of the elite police squad that handled the hostage-taking said the gun was fake.
The man took 37 people hostage on the bus at around 5:30 a.m., as commuter traffic was increasing, police said. He released two hostages, then another two, and then two more, separately. Later, he stepped out of the bus, threw an object resembling a bag and was shot by a sniper.
The man’s intentions were unclear and he did not make any particular demands, according to police. The standoff was broadcast live on Brazil’s TV Globo, riveting Brazilians in a nation accustomed to high levels of crime.
Gov. Wilson Witzel of Rio de Janeiro state praised the police, saying the hostage situation was high-profile but that armed criminals are regularly “terrorizing” people out of sight of most Brazilians.
Any criminal with a firearm “can and should be shot down by an elite sniper,” said Witzel, dismissing concerns that police killings of suspects in Rio are increasing.
Police in Rio killed 714 people in the first five months of this year – almost five a day – 20% more than in 2018, according to official figures.
Witzel, a former marine, has argued in favor of using snipers on helicopters to shoot armed criminals in Rio’s crime-ridden slums. He is a political ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose successful election platform last year included a pledge to get tough on crime.
Rio’s elite police force, known as BOPE, on Tuesday took charge of negotiations with the hostage-taker while a sniper deployed near the scene.
Several shots were heard when police killed the man. Journalists and others in the area ducked to the ground.
Some passengers who were earlier freed by the assailant told police that the man had spilled gasoline in the bus and was threatening to set it on fire. Witzel said there was a “strong smell of gasoline” when he went inside the bus after the hostage-taker was killed.
However, Hans Moreno, one of the hostages, said on TV Globo that the hostage-taker had appeared “very calm.”
At one point, the man freed a hostage who only managed to walk a few meters toward police before passing out on the ground and being taken to an ambulance.
The episode reminded many Brazilians of shocking images from a bus seizure in Rio de Janeiro in 2000 during which a hostage and the gunman were killed.
That confrontation, which was also shown on live television, inspired Bus 174, an award-winning documentary that explored the social roots of violence in Brazilian society and scrutinized problems in the police force and criminal justice system.
In 2017, a man with a toy gun took 30 people hostage on a bus on the same bridge linking Rio and Niteroi, and released them unharmed after an hour, according to local media.