Gunmen on motorcycles in Brazil’s largest city kill nine in less than an hour

Police stand guard in March in Sao Paulo. Authorities in Brazil's most populous city are investigating two shootings that left nine dead in a single night.

Though the homicide rate has dropped in Brazil’s most populous city, shootings have become disturbingly common in Sao Paulo, and two incidents this week left nine dead in less than an hour.

Both shootings occurred around midnight Tuesday, with gunmen opening fire from motorcycles. No motive has been determined, and the assailants are still at large.

Witnesses of the first shooting, in the northern neighborhood of Jacana, told police that, around 11:20 p.m., two men on a silver motorcycle opened fire on a bar located a few feet from a military police station.


Sao Paulo state’s Department of Public Safety confirmed that six men died at the scene. Three others were injured and taken to a hospital. Police found shell casings from a .45-caliber weapon.

The second shooting, which occurred in the southern neighborhood of Campo Limpo just after midnight, left three dead and one injured. Witnesses said two men on a Honda motorcycle shot at two people driving separate vehicles before turning their weapons on another pair on a motorcycle. One of the drivers died at the scene, and the other died at the hospital. One of the men on the targeted motorcycle was killed; the second was uninjured.

Police found shell casings from a .380-caliber weapon and from a 9-millimeter handgun.

Police said that they have not discounted any possible avenues of investigation, but that it does not appear the two shootings are related.

Shootings with multiple victims have become common in Sao Paulo, leaving many residents feeling unsafe, despite an 8% drop in homicides in the city from 2015 to 2016. According to the Department of Public Safety, last year’s rate was its lowest since 2001.

“They always say they’re making this city safer, but then you hear about something like [the latest shootings], and it makes you never want to leave home,” said Ivo Machado, who works at a bar in downtown Sao Paulo. “There’s no way the people who say the homicide rate is going down actually live in this city and walk down these streets.”

According to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a nonprofit organization, more people died from violence in Brazil — 278,839 — between 2011 and 2015 than in the Syrian civil war. During the same period, the United Nations refugee agency estimates that 256,124 were killed in Syria.

The shootings overnight Tuesday are the third and fourth of their kind in the greater Sao Paulo area this year. The other two occurred in the city of Guarulhos, just north of Sao Paulo.


In 2016, the second day of the year saw four killed and one injured in a shooting in Guarulhos, which was suspected of being retaliation for the death of a military police officer three days earlier. The officer was killed in a shootout with robbery suspects, only one of whom was arrested at the time.

Investigators also said the shootings do not appear to involve anyone in the police, as the weapons involved are not issued to law enforcement officers.

Some killings in the region in recent years have been tied to law enforcement.

Five young men were killed in October after a city police officer from the Santo Andre, another city near Sao Paulo, created a fake Facebook profile of a woman to lure the victims to a party, authorities say. Their bodies were found in November in the town of Mogi das Cruzes, and two other officers are suspected of participating in the killings. Two of the victims were being investigated in the September death of another police officer.

But the city’s deadliest shootings took place a year before in August 2015, when 23 were killed and seven injured in two separate shootings carried out by military and civil police officers seeking to avenge the deaths of one officer in the city of Osasco and another in the town of Barueri, authorities say. Both slain officers were off-duty at the time of their deaths and were attempting to fight off thieves when they were shot, officials say.

Three military police officers and one city officer were arrested on suspicion of participating in 18 of the killings, although more are thought to have taken part.

Langlois is a special correspondent.


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