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07 Apr 2011 18:58
Rio de Janeiro state’s health department chief Sergio Cortes presented the new toll for the attack, revising it downward from 13 dead and 22 wounded announced earlier by fire officials in the chaotic few hours after the attack.
Authorities identified the shooter as 24-year-old Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, a former student at the public school.
Police said he left a letter saying he wanted to commit suicide, but they also said he appeared to have prepared for a major deadly assault, bringing into the school two revolvers and loads of ammunition just as students and staff were arriving at the morning bell.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she was “shocked and disturbed” at the shooting.
“Innocent children lost their lives and their future,” she said in a brief television appearance.
Her education minister, Fernando Haddad, described the attack as “an unprecedented tragedy in Brazil,” adding that “this is a day of mourning for all Brazilian education”.
Colonel Evandro Bezerra, a fire department spokesperson, told TV Globo News several of the dead had been shot in the head.
The multi-storey Tasso da Silveira primary school in Rio’s Realengo district served children between nine and 14 years old.
“Employees of the school told officers that the young man was well dressed and arrived carrying a backpack, and said he told them he had been invited to speak with students in a school conference,” Bezerra said.
“That’s how he gained access to the third floor,” where he launched his attack on at least one classroom, sending terrified students running down the stairs and out the building.
Military Police Colonel Djalma Beltrame said police stormed the school and wounded the attacker, “but the man killed himself with a gunshot to the head”.
Beltrame said the attacker left a rambling suicide note that “made no sense and had no logic”.
The attack could have been far worse had a police patrol not driven past the school at the time of the shooting. Beltrame said the police saw wounded and screaming children in the streets, then heard gunshots.
“If the police did not arrive as quickly as they did the tragedy could have been far worse, because this man had a lot of ammunition and was carrying two guns,” Beltrame said.
Hundreds of distraught parents and neighbors rushed to the school for word of loved ones, with several people fainting amid harrowing scenes of despair outside the building, which has been cordoned off by police.
Eluzia, who lives opposite the school, said her 10-year-old son escaped the attack.
“He looked out the window when he heard the shots, and when he didn’t see anything he started running for the door.
Thank God he’s fine,” the woman said.
“I saw many more people running, people who had been shot.
“This neighborhood is very calm, I never imagined that something like this could happen here.”
Elizer, a postal worker who lives nearby, said two injured students banged on his door.
“Two children ran to my house, there was gunfire in all directions. My daughter and my two nephews were there, but they’re alright,” he said.
TV Globo News aired images of the wounded being loaded into ambulances at the school in the western Rio neighborhood.—AFP
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