Friday, April 8, 2011

Former student commits school slaughter in Brazil

A woman holds a photograph of her niece, Larissa dos Santos Atanasio, who was inside Tasso da Silverira school where a gunman opened fire on children, as she awaits news outside the school in the Realengo neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO - A HEAVILY armed man burst into his former Rio school and opened fire on Thursday, killing 10 children and wounding 18 people before taking his own life, in an 'unprecedented' tragedy that has shaken Brazil.

An emotional President Dilma Rousseff said she was 'shocked and disturbed' at the shooting at Tasso da Silveira public primary school in Rio's Realengo district.

'Innocent children lost their lives and their future,' she said in a brief television appearance. Rio de Janeiro state health department chief Sergio Cortes revised the toll down from the 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, and who had no prior criminal record. Police said he left a letter saying he was infected with Aids and 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.

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 spokesman, told TV Globo News several of the dead and wounded had been shot in the head. A local hospital treating most of the wounded called for people to donate blood.

While violence plagues several South American countries, attacks on schools are rare. A similar shooting at a school occurred in Argentina in September 2004, when a 15-year-old student shot dead three classmates and wounded five others. -- AFP

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