The parents of Thomas Berry, the British expatriate murdered in Venezuela alongside his beauty queen wife, have spoken of their devastation that their son lost his life while trying to give his young daughter an authentic taste of the country he loved.
In their first interview following the death of Berry, who was killed by robbers on a dangerous stretch of highway in the west of the country, his parents said their son had wanted to take his family off the beaten track to show them a different side of Venezuela.
“He might have been pushing his luck taking his family where he did”, said his father, Thomas Berry Sr, “but he wanted to show them the parts of Venezuela that people don’t usually see”.
Carol Berry, his mother, said she had been surprised to learn of the route that the family had taken.
“I was amazed to hear he had taken them along that road,” she told the Telegraph. “We had expected them back into Caracas on Friday morning and were worried when they didn’t appear. We called, but he told us they were somewhere else and having a good time”.
“He knew about the risks but he didn’t let it stop him. He was determined to do whatever he wanted”, she said.
Even in the leafy district of eastern Caracas in which the Berrys live, violent crime is a daily worry. “We are always extremely careful about the security issues, to be perfectly frank we don’t go out much,” Mrs Berry said.
Sitting around untouched Venezuelan pastries at their dining room table, the family remembered Tom between telephone calls offering condolences. A turtle which had been a tenth birthday present to their son splashed in its tub alongside them, a living reminder of their grief.
“Murder never comes as a surprise in Venezuela”, said his father as he cradled his coffee, which after 35 years in the country he prepares in the Latin style. “But when it’s someone close to you it’s a dreadful shock”.
Killings – often at the hands of robbers – are a daily occurrence in the Latin American country, which suffers one of the highest murder rates in the world. But last week’s double homicide made headlines throughout Latin America due to the widespread fame of Monica Spear, a former Miss Venezuela and soap opera actress.
Berry’s parents, who have spent the past 35 years living in Venezuela, say their son’s murder represents the depths to which the country has sunk.
“We came out here in Venezuela’s golden age”, said Thomas Berry, who brought his young family to Venezuela to teach mathematics at the newly founded Simon Bolivar University in Caracas. “But this country in almost unrecognizable today”.
Berry’s sister, despite growing up in the country and having married a Venezuelan, says she has no desire for her one-year-old son to grow up in the country. Katy, who emigrated to Edinburgh nine years previously, says she would regularly ask her brother to leave Venezuela, a country which witnessed over 24,000 murders in 2013.
“I was always telling him he should have come and lived closer to us”, she said, her eyes welling up with tears at the recollection of her deceased brother. “I have a one-year-old son and I don’t see myself returning to Venezuela. There’s no future for him here”.
Tom Berry’s murder wasn’t his first brush with violence in Venezuela. In 2000 he witnessed his best friend murdered during a Caracas hijacking during which Berry himself was shot in the stomach. Berry spent three weeks in hospital and underwent surgery on what his mother described as “destroyed intestines”. He left Venezuela for five years following the incident, but eventually the country called him back.
“Tom had his ration of bad things happen to him”, said his father, “but he loved Venezuela. He loved adventure and the freedom this country offered.”
Berry returned to Caracas in 2006 to establish Arekay Tours, an adventure travel company. He met Monica Spear the same year, whose agent’s office was adjacent to that of his newly founded business.
“They were friends for two years, but they inevitably became romantically attached”, says Katy Pulido, Spear’s agent during the two years in which she trained to win the national beauty pageant.
“They were a wonderful couple”, she told The Telegraph. “When you see them smiling in their photographs, it wasn’t just for the camera. It was their sweetness and good nature that made them so great together”.
The pair were married in 2008 in a private ceremony on Margarita Island, a popular Venezuela holiday resort in the Caribbean. Their daughter Maya was born the same year.
The couple separated in late 2012 due to work commitments which kept them apart for long periods. “Tom never wanted to travel outside the country, while she was constantly abroad”, said Luis Dominguez, his business partner at the tour company, “It put a lot of strain on the marriage, but their priority was always their daughter”.
Asked about the family’s hopes for the five-year-old’s future, Mr Berry said: “The best place for Maya is outside of Venezuela.“
“This country is certainly no place for a child to grow up,” he added.
He said he was unsure whether he and his wife could continue to live in Caracas following the tragedy. “As for us, we can’t see Venezuela the same way we did before this happened”.