An incredibly brave father-of-two died at motorway turnstiles on Sunday as armed gangs went on a rampage through Greater Lisbon. In the space of less than 36-hours two masked gangs led separate assaults on armoured vehicles, escaping with a purported €75,000. The first went tragically wrong as the getaway car careered out of control. Firing at passing vehicles “trying to force them to stop”, the masked raiders shot property salesman João Carlos Silva as he drove his wife and daughter to a birthday party.
Despite losing “a lot of blood straight away”, news reports said Silva kept going for another 2km “to ensure his family’s safety”. He bled to death before emergency services could reach hospital – leaving the seven-strong gang to make an extraordinary escape, eluding three police forces even though they were ‘exposed’ on a major motorway for vital moments.
It is this critical lack of timely police response that has baffled people listening to, and reading, developing news stories.
Police have enough time to mount roadblocks and operation stops when it pleases them, wrote one commentator reacting to a report in Diário de Notícias. Why was so little done on Sunday afternoon as the men hijacked a Citroën C3 from a terrified young mother, to be last seen “driving in the direction of Terrugem”?
Where is the information that should have come forwards from CCTV cameras – particularly as the gang will have gone through at least one motorway turnstile?
On Tuesday, answers were few and far between as no sign of either gang had been reported.
Data was “being collated”, police were “working on the theory that the first gang – which attacked an armoured truck as it arrived at the Continente supermarket in Lourel, Sintra – was behind three similar heists in the area since December”, but nothing was being said about the possible whereabouts of the perpetrators.
Police 2016 fuel budget “slashed by 50%”
The police manhunt – involving the PJ’s counter-terrorism unit, GNR and PSP agents – got underway days after union leader Peixoto Rodrigues warned that the PSP fuel budget for 2016 had been slashed by 50%.
Talking before Sunday’s horror on the A16, Rodrigues admitted that he could foresee a scenario where patrols would be done on foot because police vehicles had run through their fuel allowances.
Leader writers took up the issue, suggesting it is the reality of “selective austerity” in the government’s budget which shows “something is profoundly wrong” with the so-called “politics of patriotism”.
“When all is said and done, how far can police go,” asked Correio da Manhã editor Leonardo Ralha.
As far as their fuel budget will take them, appears to be the answer.
“Discreet chase” as interior minister refuses to comment
According to the nation’s best-read tabloid, the hunt now is a “more discreet one”, with the objective of “identifying the authors” of the fatal assault “without causing social alarm”.
Minister for Internal Administration Constança Urbano de Sousa refused to comment when she was quizzed about the heist during a debate on migrations and refugees.
“I said I would only answer questions on this debate,” she told journalists clamouring for answers.
What is certain is that forensic teams have had a number of crime scenes to learn from. The first heist used two stolen Audi cars, both of which were abandoned and could yield vital clues.
The road surface where they shot at passing drivers yielded a number of shell cases and at least one of the guns used in the attack (a .32 revolver).
Meantime, the crime scene in Vila Franca de Xira – the second assault that followed on Monday morning – has also been processed.
In this attack, too, raiders wore balaclava-type hoods and at least one carried a gun.
An eye-witness told reporters “it was quite clear they would have used the gun if they had to”, but the assault took a matter of seconds, and the men were off on their way before many people even realised what was going on.
As to amounts seized, this varies from paper to paper, with CM suggesting the first gang actually left all their money behind as they raced to stop another vehicle and make their escape.
Community in shock
Hundreds of people have been posting messages of support to the family of João Carlos Silva, a businessman described as extremely well-respected in his nearby community of Mem Martins. Friends, neighbours, employees, all have described their shock that something so surreal could have happened on what should have been a ‘normal Sunday afternoon’.
As CM explained when the story broke, 49-year-old Silva was at the wheel of his Mercedes when a bullet went through his car door and pierced his femoral artery.
Blood loss would have been acute and relentless, which is why 2km down the road at the motorway tollbooths he was already “very weak” and beyond the help of emergency teams rushing to his aid.
Timelines and locations:
The first raid took place on Sunday just after 2pm as an armoured truck owned by Loomis arrived at the Continente supermarket in Lourel, in the borough of Sintra.
Seven masked men barricaded the truck, using two Audi cars, before holding up a guard as he made his way to stock up an ATM cash machine.
As the other guard tried to make his escape, the men shot out his tyres, and then made their escape, with only a bag full of coins, writes CM.
Their car turned over a short while later on the A16, and it was here that they decamped onto the highway, shooting at passing vehicles to try and stop them.
The idea had been to bag at least €40,000, but the end result was the bag holding “not even €5000”.
This bag was later found among the wreckage of the men’s Audi on the A16.
According to CM, “everything indicates that the attackers are Portuguese” and may well live “not far from Sintra”.
The second raid took place on Monday morning at 11.30am outside a coffee shop in Vialonga, Vila Franca de Xira.
Two masked armed men, both described as Portuguese, held up an armoured truck going to replenish an ATM machine that had been out-of-order.
Eye-witnesses in the coffee shop claim one of the men threatened the security guard with the gun, while the other picked up the trays of money due to be inserted.
The men then made their getaway in a “light vehicle” and are believed to have netted at least €75,000.
By NATASHA DONN
Photo (Mário Cruz/ LUSA): The armoured truck owned by Loomis was barricaded by seven masked men as it arrived at the Continente supermarket in Lourel, in the borough of Sintra, on Sunday, February 28.