Friends and family of the former Miss Venezuela and her British ex-husband killed in a hijacking have said they hoped their deaths might finally force real government action against violent crime, amid nationwide fury that the country’s worsening insecurity had claimed one of its most loved stars.
As the opposition called a protest march on the Venezuelan national assembly, Thomas Berry’s close friend and business partner said he hoped the pair’s deaths could be a catalyst for change in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
“Perhaps now that Venezuela sees the depths to which we have sunk, things can finally change in this country”, said Luis Dominguez, Mr Berry’s partner at his Caracas travel agency.
“It’s a terrible tragedy to lose Tom,” he told the Telegraph, his voice choked with tears. “But perhaps some good can come from his death.”
Even in a country long inured to daily murders and a life behind security railings, the killing of Mr Berry and his ex-wife Monica Spear, a beauty queen-turned-soap star, in front of their five-year-old daughter on a highway on Monday, has prompted deep alarm.
It has, in turn, drawn a perhaps unprecedented response from Leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who has dispatched his private jet to Florida to fly Spear’s parents into Caracas for today’s funeral and vowed an “iron fist” against the violence ravaging the country.
Last year saw over 24,000 murders in Venezuela, the highest since records began. Many have long pointed the finger at the Socialist government, previously led by Hugo Chavez, who for years refused to acknowledge the security issues plaguing ordinary Venezuelans. While Mr Maduro promised to curb violence during his 2013 election campaign, meaningful action has so far been largely absent.
Authorities on Tuesday said they were questioning members of a gang known as “Los Rapiditos” (The Quick Ones), two of whom were minors aged just 15 and 16. Rafael Lacava, the mayor of Puerto Cabello said the gang of six also included two women.
It is believed their car broke down after colliding with an obstacle thought to have been left in the road by robbers, a common tactic on the notorious highway where the crime took place. The family locked themselves into their car as it was being hoisted onto the rescue vehicle at the sight of five armed men approaching.
Six shots were fired into the locked car. Berry was fatally shot in the chest, Spear in the head, while their five year-old daughter Maya was shot in the left leg.
Berry’s parents, who live in Caracas and were said to be “devastated”, were yesterday with Maya as she recovered in an unnamed Caracas clinic. Spear’s father Rafael said: “It is the deepest pain, the deepest pain. It is unbelievable.
“This is a great loss for us. She was very charismatic, a very good daughter, a very good mother, and she loved Venezuela.
“When my children were young, I wouldn’t let them watch telenovelas, (soap operas) and then she began acting in soap operas, and I began watching all of hers.”
Spear’s brother, Ricardo, said the child had not yet been told that her parents had died. Speaking to Venezuelan news channel NTN24, he said the country “needs political change and a mental adjustment if things are going to get better”.
Celebrities joined in the outpouring of grief at the death of Berry and Spear, whose 2004 Miss Venezuela title and various roles in television soap operas made her a notable figure throughout Latin America.
“I’m so sad for my Venezuela”, tweeted famous salsa singer Oscar De Leon. “Rage and impotence are what I feel”.
Monday’s incident was not the first time that Berry fallen victim to violence in Venezuela. He and his best friend were shot during a Caracas street-level robbery in 2000. While Berry escaped with an injured arm, his best friend was killed.
“He chose not to leave Venezuela because he had faith in this country”, said Mr Dominguez, “he knew more about Venezuela than most Venezuelans, his loss is the country’s as a whole”.
Henrique Capriles, the country’s opposition leader who has organised the Caracas march to coincide with a memorial ceremony tomorrow, has called for the government to lay their political differences to one side in order to combat “Venezuela’s emergency”.
“We must unite against violence and insecurity”, the leader tweeted yesterday, “this situation calls for us to take a long look at ourselves as a country”.
“Human life doesn’t have more value than an iPhone in this country”, said Christian Rodriguez, a member of Venezuela’s crack CICPC police unit which operates in its vast slums.
“When 85 per cent of this country’s murders go unsolved, robbers have no worries about killing a victim if they refuse to cooperate”.