A British man and his beauty queen ex-wife have been murdered in front of their five-year-old daughter in a horrific robbery in Venezuela.
Thomas Berry, 39, from London and Miss Venezuela 2004, Monica Spear Mootz, 29, were gunned down by thieves after their car broke down on the Puerto-Cabello to Valencia highway at about 10pm on Monday.
Police made five arrests in connection with the case earlier today, including two who were said to be under 18.
Armed men came up the car as the couple waited for a repair truck, and the terrified couple locked themselves in their Toyota Corolla. But the robbers opened fire through the windows.
The bodies of Mr Berry and Ms Spear, who had American citizenship, were found in the car with their daughter, who had been shot in the leg.
The five-year-old, believed to be called Maya, was taken to hospital where family and friends are helping to care for her.
According to Telemundo, the car was already on the back of a tow truck at the time of the attack. Two tow truck drivers who had arrived to help the couple are said to be under ‘intense interrogation’ by police.
All the tires on the couple’s car had been punctured after it hit ‘a sharp object that had been placed on the highway’, director of investigative police, Jose Gregorio Sierralta, said.
At least six shots are believed to have been fired, hitting Mr Berry in the chest, his ex-wife in several places and their daughter in the leg.
The attack appeared to follow a pattern of recent robberies, where cars are disabled by obstacles left in roads, or drain covers removed. A photo believed to be the couple’s car was pictured behind police tape by Gilbert Angustia on Twitter.
Ms Spear was a famous TV actress following her pageant victory and appeared in a number of telenovelas [South American soap operas], with her roll in ‘Forbidden Passions’ the most notable.
The University of Central Florida graduate had American citizenship and her parents live in Orlando, Florida.
Pictures of the model enjoying the vacation with her young daughter were posted on Ms Spear’s Instagram account in the days leading up to her death.
In a short video posted on the day she was shot dead, the actress blows a kiss to the camera during a horse riding trip.
Another photo shows Ms Spear holding hands with a girl, believed to be her daughter, as they gaze across a lagoon.
Her ex-husband, who described himself as an independent travel consultant in an online profile, lived in the capital Caracas, reports El Universal.
He moved to Florida for a short time after he was shot 15 years ago in a robbery that killed his friend.
‘He had already been shot once by robbers trying to steal his car,’ close friend Luis Dominguez told The Telegraph.
‘His friend died in the incident and although doctors saved his life, they couldn’t extract the bullet and he still had it in his stomach.’
[‘Mr Berry] moved to the States to get away from things here for a while but missed Venezuela and came back,’ Mr Dominguez added.
It is understood Mr Berry and his wife had separated last year, but were still close friends and holidayed together for the sake of their daughter.
His parents are at the hospital with the couple’s daughter. It is not known if his sister, Katie, who lives in Scotland, will fly out to be with the family.
Ms Spear’s parents were flown from Florida to Venezuela by private jet, provided by Venezuela’s president, so they could be with their granddaughter.
‘It is the deepest pain, the deepest pain. It is unbelievable,’ her father, Rafael, told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘She was very charismatic, a very good daughter, a very good mother, and she loved Venezuela.’
He recalled how his daughter had come to him for advice when she wanted to change from her chemical engineering course to study acting instead.
‘I told her she had to decide what she wanted to do to be happy for the rest of her life,’ he said. ‘When my children were young, I wouldn’t let them watch telenovelas, and then she began acting in soap operas, and I began watching all of hers.’
Mr Dominguez, who ran an adventure tour company with the actress’s ex-husband, told NBC he last spoke to Mr Berry on Sunday. ‘They were having the greatest time. He said, I’ll see you soon,’ Mr Dominguez said.
A friend of the family, Carlos Drakkar, 38, a Colombian graphic designer who lives in Caracas, said: ‘This is a very difficult moment for all of us to deal with. We are doing all we can to help out friends in this difficult moment. These things happen all too often in this country. Something has to change.’
Ms Spear’s family had asked her to move to the U.S. with them after she was robbed six times, but the model refused.
Her brother, Ricardo Spear Mootz, said: ‘She loved her country too much. It was her home.’
Family friend Marytza Sanz said Miss Spear loved Venezuela and even though she could have remained in the U.S. she chose to return so her daughter could spend time there.
The network Miss Spear worked for released a statement describing her as a ‘great actress’ who had ‘extraordinary drive and determination’.
Venezuela’s public prosecutor has appointed two separate investigators to the case, while the CICPC, Venezuela’s SWAT police force unit, has been deployed to nearby slums for answers.
Commissioner Daniel Alvarez , head of the CICPC’s homicide division, promised ‘fast results in this awful case’.
The Foreign Office says it is aware of the reports and are looking into it with the assistance of its offices in Venezuela.
A spokesman said: ‘We are aware of reports of the death of a British national on 6 January in Venezuela. We stand ready to provide consular assistance to the family.’
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to respond to the violence gripping his country with ‘an iron fist, the BBC reported.
‘There will be no tolerance to those who carry out acts like that, killing decent men and women, who have a right to live,’ he said.