Date of Incident: 13 March 2019
Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Type: Mass Shooting
- Five schoolchildren amongst 10 people killed in High school “active shooter” incident.
- Shooting committed by 2 gunmen who were former students of the same school.
- Brazil’s most deadly active shooter incident since 2011.
- Attack co-ordinated for recess in order to maximise casualties.
On the morning of Wednesday 13 March 2019, 25 year-old Luiz Henrique de Castro and 17 year-old Guilherme Taucci Monteiro entered the automobile garage premises of Jorge Antonio Moraes and shot him dead before making their way to the Escola Estadul Professor Raul Brazil state school, located in the municipality of Suzano, Sao Paulo State. They made the journey in a vehicle that Castro had hired from a local vehicle rental company.
Security camera footage from the school’s entrance, that has since been published through various media outlets, shows Monteiro entering the school entrance foyer at around 09:40. He proceeded to draw a pistol out of his jeans and shot into a group of eight students, hitting at least two, who were left incapacitated. Monteiro then exited the entrance foyer and made his way to an outside patio area. Castro entered the school a few seconds later and placed a crossbow and backpack on the ground. He pulled out a hatchet and hacked at the bodies on the ground. Alerted by the earlier gunfire, students flooded into the entrance foyer, running into Castro. He grabbed one girl by the hair and punched her several times in the face. She managed to escape along with a group of panicked students. A local resident gave safe harbour to several students, including one boy who was shot in the jaw.
Police arrived at the scene eight minutes after the first shots were fired. Official reports indicate that they secured the area before discovering that Monteiro had killed Castro, before turning his gun on himself. A search found a .38 calibre pistol, speed loaders, a crossbow, crude Molotov cocktails and a suspect device. A bomb disposal team was dispatched to the school and declared the device to be a fake.
Before their deaths, Castro and Monteiro killed four students and two members of staff who worked at the school. A fifth student died of his injuries whilst being transported to the Hospital Das Clinicas in Sao Paulo. Eleven further students were wounded in the attack.
Reports suggest that Castro and Monteiro had spent over a year planning their attack on the Escola Estadul Professor Raul Brazil school. It is believed that they were aided in this planning through interaction with a far-right internet forum known as Dogolachan. A message attributed to Monteiro was left on the forum in the days before the attack which read “Many thanks for all advice and orientations DPR. We hope from the bottom of our hearts we won’t commit this act in vain […] We were born flawed, but will depart as heroes”. The ‘DPR’ referred to is believed to be an administrator of the group, who, in the wake of the attack, posted a message to the group claiming that he had been contacted by Castro, who had been seeking to purchase a pistol from him. In statements released since the attack, investigators have made reference to the 1999 attack on a school in Littleton, Colorado; asserting that Castro and Monteiro hoped their attack “would draw more attention than the Columbine massacre”. The Columbine attack was also conducted by two students and resulted in the deaths of 13 people. Reports suggest that Moraes, who was Monteiro’s uncle, had discovered the attackers plans and so was killed to prevent him alerting authorities.
While gun crime is common in Brazil, shootings of this nature are not. The last major school shooting in Brazil happened in 2011, when 12 students were shot dead by a gunman in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s President, Jair Messias Bolsonaro has ignited debate over gun ownership in the country. In January 2019, Bolsonaro became the President of Brazil in January 2019, having campaigned on a far-right platform that promised increased law-and-order and courted the country’s gun ownership lobbies. On securing the presidency, such campaign promises were followed through with a reconfiguration of the country’s gun laws to allow anyone over the age of 25 to own a gun; so long as they have no prior criminal record or psychological issues.
The Sao Paulo attack has reignited the debate over the issue of gun ownership, with pro-Bolsonaro campaigners calling for teachers to be armed and for rules on ownership to be loosened further. In a country where the homicide rate is registered at 30.8 per 100,000 citizens, the shooting has ignited opposition to such deregulation; with many opposition politicians, as well as conservative government members rejecting the claims of Bolsonaro supporters. Bolsonaro’s campaign tapped into a desire to tackle Brazil’s rising crime levels, and has led to an increased appetite for gun ownership among Brazilians. However, whilst offering condolences to the victims and their families, he has thus far stopped short of echoing his supporters in utilising the events of 13 March to advance the pro-gun agenda.
Whilst the debate is likely to remain a feature of Brazilian politics for some time to come, it elides the possibility for potential active shooters to obtain weapons illegally in the country. Further, the utilisation of kinetic projectile weapons and crude explosives highlights the potential for determined individuals or groups of individuals to carry out attacks without access to firearms. Reports of the attackers having been actively involved in clandestine right-wing internet forums would suggest a developing pattern of incitement to extremist ideology when considered in tandem with other high-profile active shooter incidents; such as that witnessed in the Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019. The rise to prominence of an avowedly right-wing President in the country may serve to embolden those who adhere to such extremist ideology, though the same administration’s drive to clamp-down on criminal activity may also temper the freedom of movement of any developing crime-terror nexus.