Seven Dead Street Children, And No One To Identify Them
Jul. 24, 1993
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ The seven Brazilian boys lay in the refrigerated cubicles of the city morgue, eyes shut, hands folded, a white sheet covering the bullet holes in their heads.
No one knew who they were, or where they came from. No family members had come to identify them. They had lived on the streets and a death squad that reportedly included police officers killed them. That's all anyone knew for sure.
The boys, aged about eight to 12, were gunned down early Friday as they slept beside the Candelaria Cathedral in downtown Rio.
A survivor, grazed in the head by a bullet, said a state trooper was among the killers. Two state policemen were arrested in connection with the slaying and several others were being interrogated.
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 many of Brazil's estimated 7 million street urchins, these youths were shoeless, homeless and, for all purposes, nameless. The killers took all they had: life.
''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 7 years who 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. They probably were scared out of their wits, and tried to run for their lives.''
Human rights groups have long charged that storeowners hire ''death squads'' to eliminate street children suspected of stealing. The squads include retired or off-duty policemen.
On Thursday, state police made a routine sweep of the Pio XII plaza in Rio's financial district to round up street kids.
As usual, a gang of about 30 urchins was in Candelaria Square, where they meet to beg, hang out and sniff glue from plastic bags.
Some reports said the officers tried to arrest an adult who supplied the kids with glue. Someone threw a stone, and it shattered the windshield of the police van. Police left, but warned they would return.
At 1 a.m., a group of kids was sleeping on an old rug stretched on the stone sidewalk of Presidente Vargas Avenue, one of Rio's busiest thoroughfares.
Five men drove up in a white Chevette and a taxi, and hopped out of their cars. They opened fire with revolvers and an automatic pistol. About 20 shots were fired, said Dr. Mauro Ricardo, a police ballistics expert.
Four died right away. Two were taken to Souza Aguiar Hospital and died there. Two were chased down to Flamengo Park. One was killed and the other was grazed by a bullet in the head and lay still until the killers fled.
The slaying of street kids in Brazil is nothing new. This year, about 320 have been killed in Rio alone, according to the juvenile court.
And at first, city officials seemed indifferent to their deaths. The Town Hall made plans to bury the victims at 5 p.m. at a public cemetery for indigents in the far-off, poor suburb of Caju.
But those plans were shelved after an outcry from human rights groups, 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 Santos at the Rio morgue, waiting for someone to give them a past.
''You hope that one of these kids' 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, peeling off his rubber gloves after taking in three more corpses.
''It's just so damn awful for anyone, especially a kid, to die alone,'' he said.