On the morning of April 7, 2011, 12 children aged between 12 and 14 were killed and 12 others seriously wounded by an armed man who entered Tasso da Silveira Municipal School (Escola Municipal Tasso da Silveira), an elementary school in Realengo on the western fringe of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is the first non-gang school shooting with a sizable number of casualties reported in the country. Although police found no concrete evidence of religious or political motives, texts found at Oliveira’s home suggest that he was obsessed with terrorist acts and Islam, which he had converted to two years beforehand, after having been a Jehovah’s Witness for the rest of his life. In his last wishes, he requested to be buried following Islamic traditions, but also asked Jesus for eternal life and “God’s forgiveness for what I have done.”
Incident and casualties
A lone gunman, Wellington Oliveira, entered the school at around 08:30 local time, identifying himself as a former student and asking to see his school history; as such, he was allowed to enter, but instead of heading to the school’s office he proceeded to the second floor and entered an eighth-grade classroom. Some of the victim’s accounts say that he was initially very polite, greeting the children and putting his bag on a table, but soon after shot several pupils. The perpetrator was armed with a .38-caliber revolver and a .32-caliber revolver with a number of speedloaders. A boy who survived the attack said that Oliveira selectively shot to kill girls while shooting boys only to immobilize them. Ten of the twelve children killed were girls.
The children ran out of the school as soon as Oliveira started shooting. Two policemen who were patrolling the area were alerted to the shooting by two boys who had been wounded in the face. As the policemen arrived at the school, the gunman had already left the classroom and was preparing to proceed to the third floor where students and teachers had barricaded themselves inside the remaining classrooms. Rio de Janeiro military policeman Third Sergeant Márcio Alexandre Alves shot the gunman in the leg and in the stomach; he fell down a staircase and then shot himself fatally in the head.
The victims were between 12 and 14 years old. Eleven of the twelve students were buried the day after the shooting, following the Brazilian practice of burying (or cremating) people within a day of their death. The twelfth child’s body was cremated two days after the shooting.
Wellington Menezes de Oliveira (July 13, 1987 – April 7, 2011), a 23-year-old former pupil of the school, was identified as the gunman. Police confirmed they had a letter stating the perpetrator’s intention to commit suicide. The police stressed that they found no concrete evidence of a religious or political motive for the attack. Texts found at Oliveira’s home suggest that he was obsessed with terrorist acts and Islam which he described as the most correct religion. A neighbor said Oliveira had turned to Islam two years beforehand after being a lifelong Jehovah’s Witness In his letters, Oliveira states that he attended the mosque in downtown Rio and that he would study the Qur’an for four hours daily. He also describes his association with “Abdul”, who came from overseas and who boasted about having taken part in the September 11 attacks. He also indicated his desire to move to a Muslim majority country, either Egypt or Malaysia. However, Islamic leaders in Rio denied Oliveira’s claims.
Oliveira attended Tasso da Silveira Municipal School from 1999 to 2002. According to former schoolmates he was a strange, very reserved person constantly harassed by others, was called “Sherman” (an allusion to a character from American Pie), as well as “suingue” (swing), because he had a limp leg, and was thrown into a garbage bin. In a video he had recorded two days prior to the shooting Oliveira stated: “The struggle for which many brothers died in the past, and for which I will die, is not solely because of what is known as “bullying” [the English word]. Our fight is against cruel people, cowards, who take advantage of the kindness, the weakness of people unable to defend themselves.”
(A luta pela qual muitos irmãos no passado morreram, e eu morrerei, não é exclusivamente pelo que é conhecido como bullying. A nossa luta é contra pessoas cruéis, covardes, que se aproveitam da bondade, da fraqueza de pessoas incapazes de se defenderem.)
In his last wishes, he wished to be buried following Islamic traditions, but also asked Jesus for eternal life and “God’s forgiveness for what I have done”. As none of his relatives claimed Oliveira’s body, it was buried in a potter’s field at the Caju Cemetery two weeks after his death.
– Perpetrator’s letter
“First of all you should know that the impure ones shall not touch me without gloves, only the chaste ones or those who lost their chastity after wedlock and were not involved in adultery shall touch me without gloves, in other words, no fornicator or adulterer shall have direct contact with me, nor should anything that is impure touch my blood, no impure person shall have contact with a virgin without their permission, those who prepare my burial shall remove all my garments, bathe me, dry me and drape me completely undressed in a white sheet which is in this building, in a bag that I have left in the primary room of the first floor, after wrapping me in this sheet they shall put me in my coffin. If possible, I want to be buried alongside the grave where my mother lies. My mother is called Dicéa Menezes de Oliveira and she is buried in Murundu cemetery. I need a visit from a faithful follower of the Lord to my grave at least once, I need him to pray in front of my grave asking for God’s forgiveness for what I have done imploring that Jesus on his return wake me from the sleep of death for eternal life.
I have left a house in Sepetiba of which none of my family members need, there are poor institutions, financed by generous people who take care of abandoned animals, I want this space where I spent my last months to be donated to one of these institutions, because animals are very unappreciated beings and need much more protection and affection than human beings who have the advantage of being able to communicate, work to feed themselves, therefore, those who take my house, I please ask to have good sense and fulfill my request, by fulfilling my request, you will fulfill the will of the parents who wished to pass this estate onto me and everybody knows this, if you do not fulfill my request, automatically you will be disrespecting the will of my parents, which will prove that you have no consideration for them, I believe that you all have respect for our parents, prove this by doing what I asked.”
— Wellington Menezes de Oliveira
The list of victims was released by police in Rio de Janeiro. The families of four victims decided to donate the victims’ organs. Six injured children, two of them in critical condition, required further treatment.
The victims were:
Ana Carolina Pacheco da Silva, aged 13
Bianca Rocha Tavares, aged 13
Géssica Guedes Pereira, aged 14
Igor Moraes, aged 12
Karine Chagas de Oliveira, aged 14
Larissa dos Santos Atanásio, aged 13
Laryssa Silva Martins, aged 13
Luiza Paula da Silveira, aged 14
Mariana Rocha de Souza, aged 12
Milena dos Santos Nascimento, aged 14
Rafael Pereira da Silva, aged 14
Samira Pires Ribeiro, aged 13
The police estimate that over 60 shots were fired by the perpetrator during the shooting. His body was found with a .38 caliber and a .32 caliber revolver, some speedloaders and a bandolier with 18 unused rounds.
The .32-caliber Rossi snub-nosed revolver belonged to a man who died in 1994 and according to his son, it was stolen from him by the time of his death. The police apprehended the two men who illegally sold the weapon to the perpetrator, who, according to them, claimed he needed the firearm for his own protection.
Despite the fact that the .38-caliber Rossi 971 revolver had its serial number almost totally scratched-off, the Police managed to locate the weapon’s original owner, a 57-year-old man who worked in a slaughterhouse and was a former co-worker of the perpetrator. According to the seller he sold Wellington the weapon, the speedloaders, and a huge quantity of ammunition, possibly that used in the shooting.
President Dilma Rousseff declared three days of national mourning and shed tears during her speech to the public regarding the incident.
The State Governor, Sérgio Cabral, and the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, addressed the press at the site of the shooting a few hours later. Cabral described the sergeant, teachers and children from the elementary school, who were able to call policemen who were nearby, as “heroes”. “Without them, the tragedy would have been much worse”, he said.
The incident sparked nationwide discussions about how safe Brazilian schools are, and the government promised to advance a disarmament program from May 6, 2011 until the end of the year.
On April 9, 2011, the house where Wellington de Oliveira had lived had a graffiti inscription “assassino covarde” (cowardly murderer). Two days later, a group of local people and former students of the school repainted the house. saying that people “should not continue the harm that he has caused”.
Hundreds of residents and students from other schools gathered outside the school in memory of the dead. Posters and flowers were left in front of the school.
On April 10, a group of protesters hung blood-stained Brazilian flags on Copacabana beach in memory of the children killed.
At the end of a concert in São Paulo, singer Bono, from Irish band U2, asked almost 80 thousand people to remember the children who died in Realengo while their names scrolled up on a screen.
The three policemen who responded to the shooting were decorated for bravery by Brazilian vice-president Michel Temer on April 12, 2011. Third Sergeant Márcio Alexandre Alves was promoted to Second Sergeant; Corporals Denilson Francisco de Paula and Ednei Feliciano da Silva were promoted to Third Sergeant.
The international press commented that Brazilian public opinion was shocked by the shooting as it was the first of its kind in the country.
The archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Orani João Tempesta, received a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, who said that he prayed for the quick recovery of the wounded and asked all people of the city to “help build a society with no violence, and respect for each other, especially for the weak and oppressed”.
Students from Columbine, Colorado, US, the site of a 1999 massacre, made a poster stating their feelings about the tragedy. The poster was sent to the Brazilian elementary school.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting by a former primary pupil, in Newtown, Connecticut, US on December 14, 2012, the Tasso da Silveira school held a vigil for the victims on December 21.