Two dead – one of them a 29-year-old GNR agent – a woman “brain dead” and two police with gunshot wounds, one of them serious. This was the bloody tally as we went to press on Wednesday after shootouts in the Beira region involving police and a couple of unsuspecting civilians – tragically on their way to an appointment in Coimbra for fertility treatment.
Luís and Liliane Pinto no longer have the chance of raising a family. Luís was killed outright while his 26-year-old wife was reported as “dying later in hospital”. This was later refuted by authorities who stress she is still alive but in a “very critical condition”, while television reports have said she is on life support.
On Wednesday morning, the situation was still chaotic. Hundreds of police were involved in one of the largest manhunts the country has ever seen as 44-year-old former émigré from South Africa, Pedro Dias, continued at large.
Armed and dangerous, householders in the area where he is thought to be hiding were being told to “stay indoors”.
This is a story that has shocked the country to its very core, as shootouts with police are suddenly becoming ‘commonplace’.
The country has seen numerous bloody battles over the last few months, with fatalities almost always among civilians.
But police too have been victims in the growing propensity for violence, and Tuesday’s massacre sees agents everywhere once again in mourning.
Twenty-nine-year-old Carlos Caetano was described as “a lad always ready to help”, “fun”, a young man who “liked dancing”.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has condemned the bloodbath as “horrible”, and an event that leaves him “profoundly concerned”.
How it all began: police ‘surprise’ copper thieves at construction site
The horror began in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
GNR agents Caetano and his 41-year-old colleague António Ferreira “identified suspects stealing copper” at the construction site of a hotel near the Termas das Caldas da Cavaca and moved in.
As Caetano identified himself, one of these suspects appears to have opened fire, killing him instantly.
Reports have not explained how many suspects could have been involved, nor what happened to any of the others. But Observador claims that Ferreira was then made to put Caetano’s body into the back of the patrol car and drive, in the company of the gunman, to “an industrial area” 5kms away.
Here, he was then made to get out of the police car and tied to a nearby tree.
National tabloid Correio da Manhã says the gunman then shot Ferreira in the head. Miraculously, he has survived his injuries and is today described as “making progress”. The bullet was lodged in his neck, but his “body is responding to treatments”, said a CMTV reporter.
The gunman is then understood to have returned to the van he was driving – using the police car. Presumably this was because he went to rejoin the other men involved in the attack.
“The suspects made off on foot along the EN229,” explains Observador, “where they forced a car to stop, shooting the couple inside it”.
Twenty-nine-year-old Luís Pinto died instantly, while his wife was critically injured.
“The suspects then made off in this stolen car,” Observador continues.
Ferreira, although seriously injured, managed to free himself from the tree and call for back-up.
At some point in the early morning time-frame, Pedro Dias parted company from the rest of the men he was with to strike out on his own, on foot.
Further along the EN229, at Candal, a third policeman “intercepted” him, near a river, and was shot in both legs.
It is here that Dias appears to have “vanished” into dense woodland – described as his ‘comfort zone’ as he knows the area well and has benefited from military training. As TV stations explain, he is “used to crisis situations”.
Understood to be a pilot, Dias has a young baby and a partner who was on Wednesday being quizzed by police desperate to bring this drama to some kind of closure.
The only ‘good news’ with regard to the victims is that Ferreira appears to have “passed the worst” of his injuries, while the agent shot in the legs has already been given “alta” (allowed home from hospital).
Newspapers, meantime, are alluding to recent shootings involving police. Only two weeks ago an agent was shot at after a high-speed car chase along Vasco da Gama bridge in Lisbon. This ended with the agent injured, and the gunman shot dead by one of the man’s colleagues.
In 2013, 27-year-old GNR corporal Bruno Chaínho was killed after being shot in the head by a Moldavian immigrant who had taken a family hostage in a restaurant in Pinhal Novo.
Only last month, police in various parts of the country shot dead three “suspects”, one of them an unarmed 16-year-old, while a man who had battled for 14 years to be compensated for life-changing injuries after being shot by police finally won €66,000 in compensation.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: GNR and INEM emergency teams at the site where an officer was killed and another seriously injured after being shot at in Quinta das Lameiras, Aguiar da Beira, on October 11
Photo by: MIGUEL PEREIRA DA SILVA/LUSA