RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – For Ricardo Moraes, a veteran photographer who for 11 years has documented for Reuters life in Rio de Janeiro’s often dangerous cinderblock slums known as “favelas”, work began at about 6 a.m. on Thursday, when he heard a radio report of a hostage situation in Sao Carlos, a sprawling tangle of hillside homes near the city center.
The images he would capture – a young woman, kneeling over her husband’s body, overcome with grief and surrounded by heavily armed police – ultimately would appear on the front pages of Brazil’s two largest newspapers. They resonated in a city fed up with violence, where residents say shootouts among aggressive criminal gangs and a notoriously deadly police force are common.
The incident culminating in the photographs began when a man who police later identified as a drug trafficker took a family of three hostage in an apartment building.
He surrendered but hours later police exchanged gunfire with other suspects near the lobby, and the fighting quickly spilled into the surrounding area.
Then another family was taken hostage in a house nearby, by another heavily armed group. As negotiations with police ensued, female relatives of the drug gang gathered nearby.
Hours later, the hostage-takers surrendered and exited the second building.
But one of them was missing.
Behind the police, the women edged closer to the home. Sprawled on a staircase was a dead body.
That is when the subject of Moraes’ photograph broke into tears.
Surrounded by police dressed in military-style gear, the images show the young woman collapsing in despair as she recognizes the body. Another woman comforts her.
When Moraes visited the local morgue on Friday morning, he saw the woman again, distraught and surrounded by family. She agreed to talk.
In a brief interview, the woman, who identified herself only as Juliana, said she was the wife of the slain man, who she named as Davi Barboza. She said she was four months pregnant with his child. She acknowledged he was a criminal and made an appeal to those who broke the law to make ends meet.
“I want to ask whoever is in that life to get out,” Juliana told Moraes, choking back tears.
“Think of your family because it’s very difficult for us. I don’t know how I’m going to go back home and not see him anymore.”
Reuters was not able to verify the exact chain of events leading to Barboza’s death, nor the cause of his death. State police said in a statement they had exchanged heavy fire with criminals throughout the day and confiscated various weapons, but did not offer more details about individuals in a statement provided to Reuters.
Moraes said that when he rushed to the apartment building that morning he never expected to encounter such an emotional scene.
“But ever since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Brazil, I’ve been hearing a phrase which I thought about when I began to photograph Juliana: everyone is loved by someone.”
Juliana’s pain is not unique in Brazil, which last year recorded more homicides than any other country in the world. Rio de Janeiro alone registered 3,025 homicides. Another 1,814 people were killed by police.
“My husband, he was what he was. But he was a good man,” said Juliana. “He was my prince.”
(Reporting by Ricardo Moraes; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Wallis)