CARACAS, Venezuela -- Denouncing the slayings of a former beauty queen and her ex-husband as a “blow” to all Venezuelans, President Nicolas Maduro met Wednesday with governors and mayors to discuss measures to deal with the country’s out-of-control violent crime.
Maduro was reacting to the killings Monday night of Monica Spear, the 2004 Miss Venezuela, Miami resident and soap opera actress, along with her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, on a highway near Caracas. Their 5-year-old daughter was wounded in the attack by assailants who opened fire on the couple after their car was disabled.
“We have to look for any means to find common solutions,” Maduro said during the meeting with governors and 79 mayors at the presidential palace in Caracas.
Authorities in Carabobo state announced the arrests of five suspects in a poor barrio in Puerto Cabello, where the slayings took place.
The victims’ car had a flat tire on the highway connecting the cities of Valencia and Puerto Cabello and was about to be towed when the couple were attacked.
Spear, 29, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head, while Berry, 39, a British citizen who ran a Venezuelan-based adventure tourism agency, was shot in the chest. Their daughter suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The family apparently had locked themselves inside their disabled car, at which point the assailants opened fire.
Sources close to the couple said Spear had come to Venezuela with her daughter in an effort to reconcile with Berry.
Maduro said Wednesday that there was a major increase in violent crime in the last two weeks of 2013. The meeting with governors and mayors had been scheduled for next week but was moved up after the shootings, which shocked many Venezuelans.“We have to join together in working for a solution to social problems,” Maduro said. “Everyone has to accept their share of responsibility, as I do mine.”
Maduro said Venezuelans should disarm and he planned to draft a “pacification law” aimed at reducing the number of firearms in private hands. “Guns are for the police and the republic,” he said.
He also warned the opposition not to take advantage of the killings for political gain. Among those attending was Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Maduro last April, claiming the election had been stolen from him. The two men shook hands.
In an television interview in Florida, Spear’s father, Rafael, speaking for the family, said: “No words can describe our pain.”
“This is something that never should have happened,” he said. "She loved Venezuela, I couldn’t get her to stay away, despite the insecurity. She had already been robbed five or six times.”
Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.