Rio street urchins rest unnamed, unmourned

RIO DE JANEIRO - The killers warned the boys not to sleep in the street. But there was nowhere else to go. 'They said they'd come back and get us,' said a gangly street boy of 13.

Seven of his companions, aged between eight and 12, were murdered on Friday with gunshots to the head. A survivor said a state policeman was among the killers. Two state policemen have been arrested in connection with the killings and several others are being interrogated. The police have refused to comment on the case.

'They came out firing,' recalled the boy, hiding his face and declining to give his name for fear of reprisals. 'One was shooting at me but his gun misfired. I ducked, then ran and ran.'

The massacre made headlines across the world and shocked the country. Officials lamented the tragedy. Human rights advocates decried the systematic killing of abandoned children in Brazil's big cities. But none of this brought any relatives or loved ones to the Rio morgue to identify the boys.

Like so many of Brazil's estimated seven million street urchins, these youths were shoeless, homeless and, for all purposes, nameless. 'I don't know what's worse, the killing or seeing these kids here without anyone to say goodbye to them,' muttered Pedro Santos, a morgue employee for seven years who had unloaded the slight bodies from an ambulance hours earlier. 'These kids had taken a lot of bullets,' he said. 'Some of them got it from behind.'

The murder or 'disappearance' of street kids is nothing new in Rio, where poverty and neglect leave thousands homeless and roaming. Amnesty International issued a report last October denouncing the torture, murder or disappearance of thousands of poor children in Brazil's big cities by death squads composed of, or run by, police. The human rights orgnisation said the squads are 'hired by local shopkeepers to remove alleged criminals and petty thieves from the area'.

A 1992 Brazilian congressional investigation found that more than 4,600 street children had been killed in the previous three years. This year, about 320 have been killed in Rio, according to the juvenile court.

At first, city officials seemed indifferent to these new deaths. The Town Hall made plans to bury the victims at a public cemetery for indigents. But those plans were shelved after protests, said Abilio Souza, a member of the municipal Human Rights Committee. 'They wanted to shuffle the kids off, sweep them under dirt,' he said. 'Not only is that illegal, it's completely inhuman.'

Now the corpses lay in numbered containers under the watchful eye of the morgue attendant, waiting for someone to give them a past.

'You hope that one of these children's relatives will pick up a paper tomorrow, or talk to someone who knows what happened, and have the courage to come down and pick out their boy,' said Santos. 'It's just so damn awful for anyone, especially a kid, to die alone.'

The threats had started on Thursday, according to Dineva Vanuzzi of the National Movement of Street Boys and Girls in Brasilia, the capital. State police were making a routine sweep of the Pio XII plaza in central Rio to round up the children.

As usual, a gang of urchins was beside the Candelaria Cathedral, where they meet to beg, hang out and sniff glue from plastic bags. Users said the effects of the glue fumes helped them to forget their hunger and thirst.

What happened next remains unclear. Police may have tried to grab a boy, Ms Vanuzzi said. Other reports said they arrested an adult who supplied the children with glue. Someone threw a stone, and it shattered the windshield of the police van. The police left, but warned they would return.

At 1am, a group of children were sleeping on an old rug stretched along the stone pavement of Presidente Vargas Avenue, one of Rio's busiest thoroughfares. Five men then drove up in a white Chevette and a taxi, and the shooting began.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?