Amazon fisherman confesses to killing missing pair
Dom Phillips, 57, a veteran freelance writer, and Bruno Pereira, 41, a known Indigenous specialist, went missing on June 5th while sailing in Brazil's Javari Valley.
A federal investigator claimed a fisherman confessed to killing a British journalist and an Indigenous specialist in Brazil's remote Amazon and led authorities to a place where human remains were discovered, ending a 10-day hunt for the missing duo.
Dom Phillips, 57, a veteran freelance writer, and Bruno Pereira, 41, a known Indigenous specialist, went missing June 5 while sailing in Brazil's Javari Valley, bordering Peru, when Phillips was investigating a book.
A federal police investigator stated at a press conference in the Amazon city of Manaus on Tuesday night that the lead suspect confessed and explained what happened to Phillips and Pereira. According to investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, called Pelado, informed authorities he killed the men with a gun.
Pelado led authorities to the spot where police recovered the remains. Torres noted that "We would have no way of getting to that spot quickly without the confession."
Torres said the remains would be given to the proper families. Pelado's family had said that he claimed police tortured him to get a confession.
Police stated that more are involved in the murder and that police knew the area where the missing men's boat was located, detailing how the perpetrators attempted to sink the boat, and that the engine had been recovered.
Military leaders joined the search for Phillips and Pereira a few days after their disappearance was reported, according to a news conference held at Brazil's federal police headquarters in Manaus.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent adversary of media and Indigenous experts, has garnered criticism that the government didn’t get involved soon enough. Earlier on Wednesday, he chastised Phillips in an interview, claiming that neighbors in the neighborhood where he went missing didn't like him and that he should have been more cautious in the area.
Indigenous peoples in the area spearheaded the search for the two. In a statement issued Wednesday, UNIVAJA, an alliance of Javari Valley Indigenous peoples, grieved the loss of "two partners," noting that they had only received assistance and security from local authorities.
As federal police planned a press conference, Pereira's colleagues in Brasilia held a vigil outside the offices of the Brazilian government's Indigenous affairs department. Pereira was on leave from the agency at the time.
Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the recovery of the remains can end the anguish of not knowing their whereabouts. In a statement, she said, "now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love."
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat on a river at the entrance of Peru's and Colombia's Javari Valley Indigenous Territory. There have been violent clashes between fishermen, poachers, and government authorities in that region.
Things started moving Wednesday when federal investigators brought an unidentified suspect out on the river toward search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira. An AP photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search area, saw police arresting the suspect, who was dressed in a hood.
On Tuesday, police announced the arrest of a second suspect in the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and the brother of Pelado, who had previously been named as the primary suspect by police.
According to police detectives, de Oliveira has not admitted to any involvement in the crime, but they have proof against him. Individuals who were with Pereira and Phillips said that Pelado flashed a firearm at them the day before they vanished.
Official search teams focused their efforts on a location in the Itaquai river where volunteers from the Matis Indigenous community discovered a tarp from the boat used by the missing men on Saturday.
Authorities began searching the area on Sunday and discovered a backpack, laptop, and other personal items buried underneath. That evening, police said that they had recognized the things as belonging to both missing men, including Pereira's health card and clothing. Phillips claimed to own the bag.
Previously, police had reported detecting blood traces in Pelado's boat. Officers also discovered organic stuff in the river that seemed to be of human origin, which was submitted for study.
According to authorities, one of the primary lines of the police inquiry into the abduction has pointed to an international network that pays impoverished fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, Brazil's second-largest Indigenous area.
Pereira, who formerly supervised the local office of the federal Indigenous agency known as FUNAI, participated in multiple anti-illegal fishing operations. In such cases, the fishing gear is usually confiscated or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and briefly jailed. Only Indigenous peoples have the legal right to fish on their lands.
Atalaia do Norte’s Mayor Denis Paiva told reporters that the crime was motivated by a "personal feud over fishing inspection."
While some police, the mayor, and others in the region blame the disappearances on the "fish mafia," federal investigators have not ruled out alternative possibilities, such as narco-trafficking.
Torres, the federal cop, reaffirmed that argument when he said details of the investigation couldn't be shared but that they were investigating several possible lines.