Monday, April 11, 2011

Brazilians mourn school shooting victims

Tears and sadness overflowed in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend as funerals were held for twelve students killed in a school shootout. It may never be known why 23-year-old Wellington Menezes Oliveira indiscriminately opened fire at the children on Thursday though he reportedly left a suicide letter giving his burial instructions.

Last week’s tragedy shined a light on Brazil’s already strict gun control laws. According to the AP potential gun purchasers must meet a strict series of requirements including being at least 25 years old, passing a psychological exam and having no criminal record. Yet police charged two suspects with illegally selling the murder weapon with its serial number scratched off to Oliveira.

A parliamentary commission found that 580,000 handguns were sold illegally in the state of Rio de Janeiro or over double the amount of legally registered guns. It’s unknown if the weapon in the Oliveira’s shooting was one of the estimated tens of thousands of weapons sold illicitly into Brazil.

Lawmakers and activists on both sides of the gun control debate have used the tragedy to support their respective positions. “I will fight so that this doesn’t lead to a person being prohibited from having the right to have an arm to defend their family and property,” said gun rights backed Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni. On Sunday, meanwhile, a rally was held at Copacabana beach in favor of greater action to control arms trafficking.

While the gun control debate gathers steam, it would be a pity if it were to overshadow Brazil’s mental health issues. It seems that the demons of Oliveira’s mind unfortunately got the better of him:
As vigils were held for about 10 children still in the hospital, investigators and family members revealed new details about Mr. Oliveira. Police officials said he had been introspective as a boy, methodical and unsociable. Teachers told the police he had been bullied at school.

Family members had chastised him for saying that he was impressed by the Sept. 11 attacks, and for saying that he wanted to send a plane crashing into Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue.

The police said telephone records showed that in the past eight months Mr. Oliveira had called just one number: a tavern near his home that delivered food.
Image- Reuters via BBC News
Online Sources- Xinhua, LAHT, UPI, MSNBC, AFP, CNN, New York Times,

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