An armed man on Tuesday took dozens of hostages on a bus in Brazil and threatened to set the vehicle on fire with gasoline before police shot him dead in a four-hour standoff broadcast live on television.
All of the hostages were freed unharmed in the confrontation, which unfolded on an 8-mile-long bridge linking Rio de Janeiro to the Niteroi municipality across Guanabara Bay.
The seized bus was coming from Sao Gonçalo, a community struggling with poverty and violence that lies across a bay. Many people use the bridge to travel to and from work in Rio, and hundreds of vehicles were backed up as police closed lanes and tried to get control of the dangerous situation.
The man, holding a gun and a knife, took 37 people hostage on the bus around 5:30 a.m., as commuter traffic was increasing. He released two hostages, then another two, and then two more, separately. Later, he stepped out of the bus, threw an object resembling a bag and was shot by a sniper.
The gunman’s intentions were unclear and he did not make any particular demands, according to police. The standoff was broadcast live on Brazil’s TV Globo, riveting Brazilians in a nation accustomed to high levels of crime.
Gov. Wilson Witzel of Rio de Janeiro state praised the police, saying the hostage situation was high-profile but that armed criminals are regularly “terrorizing” people out of sight of most Brazilians.
“If the police could do their job and shoot people with rifles, so many victims would be spared,” Witzel said on TV Globo.
The governor, a former marine, has argued in favor of using snipers on helicopters to shoot armed criminals in Rio’s crime-ridden slums. He is a political ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose successful election platform last year included a pledge to get tough on crime.
Rio’s elite police force, known as BOPE, had taken charge of negotiations with the hostage-taker while a sniper was placed near the scene.
Several shots were heard when police killed the man. Journalists and others in the area ducked to the ground.
Some passengers who were earlier freed by the assailant told police that the man had spilled gasoline in the bus and was threatening to set it on fire. However, Hans Moreno, one of the hostages, said on TV Globo that the man had appeared “very calm.”
At one point, the gunman freed a hostage who managed to walk only a short distance toward police before passing out on the ground and being taken to an ambulance.