Beauty queen killed in road robbery
A former Miss Venezuela and her ex-husband were shot and killed and their five-year-old daughter wounded when they resisted robbers by locking themselves inside their car.
The attack in Venezuela happened after their tyres were punctured, stranding them on an isolated stretch of road, police said yesterday.
The killing of Monica Spear, 29, a popular soap-opera actress, and Thomas Henry Berry, a 39-year-old British citizen, was the latest high-profile crime in a country where killings are common in armed robberies.
Monday's killings followed a pattern in Venezuela of late-night assaults carried out by disabling cars with obstacles placed on roads, or by removing sewer covers.
Ms Spear and Mr Berry were killed at about 10.30pm local time between Puerto Cabello, the country's main port, and the provincial capital of Valencia.
They were returning from holiday to Caracas on a badly maintained stretch of highway that does not have many travellers at that hour.
Their four-door sedan hit "a sharp object that had been placed on the highway" which punctured at least two of its tyres, the director of the country's investigative police, Jose Gregorio Sierralta, said.
Two tow trucks arrived almost immediately, he said, and the attack occurred after the car had been lifted onto one of the trucks.
Seeing the robbers coming, the travellers locked themselves inside and the attackers fired at least six shots, he said.
"They fired with viciousness," President Nicolas Maduro said of the attackers, in comments to state television.
He mourned "the loss of a very spiritual young woman" actively involved in various charities.
And he annnounced that he would convene a security meeting today that had originally been scheduled for the end of January.
The meeting will bring together state governors and mayors of Venezuela's 79 most dangerous cities.
Police in Puerto Cabello arrested five suspects, some under the age of 18, Mr Sierralta added.
It was not clear if Ms Spear and Mr Berry had called the tow trucks, or if any of the drivers were among those arrested for suspected involvement in the killings.
The daughter, Maya, was in stable condition after treatment for a leg wound and was with relatives in Caracas, said Mr Sierralta.
The family had spent the New Year in the mountains of the western state of Merida then travelled to the plains, said Luis Dominguez, a friend and former business associate of Mr Berry.
He said Mr Berry was raised in Venezuela and ran a travel agency.
"He knew Venezuela a lot better than many Venezuelans," said Mr Dominguez, describing the dead couple as people "who really loved the country," had a good relationship despite their divorce and made it a point to holiday together.
"They weren't together," he said. "But they were very attached for the benefit of their daughter."
He said Venezuelans can only hope that their deaths bring "a bit more strength to the fight against crime".
Violent crime soared during the 14-year rule of Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last March. Venezuelans list crime as their most pressing worry.
The country has one of the world's highest murder rates - the United Nations has ranked it fifth globally - and violent crime is so rampant that Venezuelans tend to stay home after dark.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on Mr Maduro to put aside political differences and unite "to win the fight against insecurity" that claimed nearly 25,000 lives last year.
Ms Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004, competed in the Miss Universe pageant the following year and had acted in numerous soap operas, most recently in Pasion Prohibida for the US-based Telemundo network.
She split her time between Caracas and south Florida, said Mr Dominguez, while Mr Berry, who was born in England, lived in Caracas.
Ms Spear had more than 355,000 followers on Twitter and her feed over the last week included brief videos of holiday scenes sent on Instagram.
In one video, posted on Sunday and described as being taken on the plains of Apure state, she looks at the camera while riding a horse, turns away and then looks back, blowing a kiss.