Gunmen killed a former Miss Venezuela and her British-born partner in front of their young daughter in an attack that has shocked the crime-plagued nation, authorities said on Tuesday.
Monica Spear, a 29-year-old soap opera star, and Thomas Henry Berry, 39, were killed in what appears to have been a botched robbery after their car broke down on a highway in northwestern Venezuela late on Monday, police and prosecutors said.
Their daughter, five-year-old Maya Berry Spear, was wounded in the right leg, but was stable after receiving medical treatment.
Five people have been detained and interrogated in connection with the killings, Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Miguel Rodriguez said after a televised meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who vowed to use an “iron hand” to crack down on the nation’s soaring crime rates.
The family was driving on a highway when their car hit a blunt object on the road, forcing them to pull over, forensic police director Jose Gregorio Sierralta said.
There are suggestions that the object was deliberately placed there as part of a planned robbery.
Spear waved down a tow truck, which stopped to help the stricken car on the road between Puerto Cabello and Valencia in Carabobo State, Sierralta said.
While the tow truck workers operated the crane, five armed men emerged on the road. The truck’s operators fled to a police station about 1.5km away, while the mother, father and child locked themselves in their car in a desperate attempt to protect themselves.
“The criminals fired multiple shots at the vehicle” before fleeing without stealing anything, Sierralta said.
Investigators impounded the couple’s car and took testimony from the two tow-truck operators.
Spear, a quarter-finalist in the 2005 Miss Universe contest, appeared in Spanish-language US network Telemundo’s Pasion Prohibida and Flor Salvaje.
The dark-haired actress, who lived in Miami, Florida, was on holiday in her native Venezuela. She had posted videos of the countryside and herself horse riding on Instagram in the past couple of days.
Her husband was born in Britain, but has Venezuelan citizenship.
“This is a massacre,” said Maduro, who vowed to curb the country’s runaway violence during his presidential campaign last year. “This violence is a sickness that we have.”
He called about 100 mayors and governors to an urgent meeting yesterday to coordinate action against crime.
Venezuelans who work in movies, theater and TV called a rally yesterday in Caracas to denounce the street violence epidemic.
Venezuelan actress Gaby Espino, who lives in Miami, said she would never return to her home country.
“This is the day-to-day life in our country. We have all left Venezuela, fleeing in fear, terrified because this is the reality of our country and today, it happened to Monica,” Espino told Telemundo. “I love my country, but I won’t set another foot in Venezuela.”