Murder of João Hélio
João Hélio Fernandes Vieites was a 6-year-old Brazilian boy who was murdered on February 7, 2007 by being dragged from a car for 7 km (4.3 miles) after an armed carjacking by a group of young males in the Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio de Janeiro. The callous manner in which the child was murdered shocked the Brazilian public. The murder of "João Hélio", as it became known in the press, touched a raw nerve with the public. It received substantial coverage in Rio's media and throughout Brazil. It sparked a number of public protests demanding concrete solutions to the manifestations of extreme violence plaguing the city and amendments to the constitution and penal code, seeking to increase the punishment for those perpetrating brutal crimes, and to have greater accountability placed upon adolescents who commit murder.
- 1 Carjacking
- 2 Murder
- 3 Public reaction in Rio
- 4 Cemetery in Jardim Sulacap
- 5 Solidarity march (Zona Norte)
- 6 Sentencing
- 7 Aftermath
- 8 References
- 9 External links
- 10 See also
Six-year-old João Hélio (March 18, 2000 - February 7, 2007) (aged 6) was the only son of Élson Lopes Vieites, and his wife Rosa Cristina Fernandes. They were a middle-class Carioca family living in the Zona Norte (north suburbs) of Rio de Janeiro. During one summer evening, João Hélio was riding in the backseat of his mother's car, a Corsa Sedan, as they drove home from a religious center located in the neighborhood of Bento Ribeiro. Also in the car driven by his mother Rosa, were a family friend and João Hélio's older sister, 13-year-old Aline.
As she was driving along João Vicente street (Rua João Vicente) and slowed at a traffic light at the corner of Henrique de Melo street in the Oswaldo Cruz neighborhood shortly after nine o’clock at night, there were already two cars stopped ahead of them. One of these was a taxi out of which three young men suddenly emerged, with two of them pointing handguns. They tapped on the car windows to show that they were metal and not fake. They surrounded the family's car and forced everyone to get out. João Hélio's mother, Rosa, who had been a victim of a street assault before, knew not to resist. She rushed to the backseat to help João Hélio unbuckle his seat belt, but was pushed aside by one of the robbers and the car door slammed onto the seatbelt holding the child, leaving João Hélio’s body hanging outside of the car. The thieves then accelerated the vehicle at a high speed. Rosa and Aline chased the car screaming.
The assailants drove a circuitous route, through several neighborhoods, dragging João Hélio for a total of 7 km (4.3 miles) before abandoning the car with the child's body still attached to it. The assailants traveled in a mostly southeastern direction, traversing four different neighborhoods: Oswaldo Cruz, Madureira, Campinho, and Cascadura. When they passed in front of two different corner bars on the corners of Cândido Bastos and Silva Gomes, and Barbosa and Florentina streets, patrons were horrified at what they were witnessing and shouted frantically at the car's occupants to stop the car. One man on a motorcycle chased the car to alert them that there was a child being dragged but was threatened with a gun held by the robber sitting in the passenger seat (later identified as 18-year-old Diego Nascimento da Silva). This incident when the gun was flashed occurred along Avenida Intendente Magalhães in the neighborhood of Campinho, which was illuminated with floodlights in preparation for Carnaval. The motorcyclist later testified that once he got up close to the car he could see that João Hélio was already deceased.
At the time of the incident, Police Chief Hercules Pires do Nascimento stated that the thieves were well aware that they were dragging a child, and even drove in a zig-zag fashion to try to get rid of him. He added that their demeanor was cold and indifferent. At one point one of the thieves shouted to those attempting to alert them, "That's not a child, it's a Judas doll." Witnesses reported seeing the child's body toppled over many times, bouncing against the pavement and the rear wheel, aggravated by numerous speed bumps along the route that the thieves took. After the carjackers reached Bornéu street in Cascadura, they turned off onto small Caiari street, which ends in a dead-end. There they parked the car and according to a resident who recognized the group, after getting out of the car and seeing the child, searched the car for valuables and then calmly disappeared down an alleyway of stairs that exits into Três Lagoas square in Cascadura; leaving João Hélio's mangled body still hanging from the car.
After killing the child they went home to have dinner with their parents before attending a local church party. The family of one of the thieves turned them in once they found out the truth. Less than eight hours after the murder they were apprehended by the 30th Precinct of Rio de Janeiro's State Police. The thieves were all under the age of 23. One of them was under 18, the Brazilian age of criminal and civil responsibility for an adult. Details about the five who participated in the crime began to emerge in the media.
Public reaction in Rio
Although Rio had historically suffered a high murder rate for several years prior to the murder, the fact that it was a young child subjected to this treatment struck a nerve among Rio's citizens, particularly in the neighborhoods where the thieves drove. The crime sparked a series of public protests and debates throughout Brazil demanding an end to violence and amendments to the constitution and penal code to increase the punishment of criminals involved in brutal crimes.
As details of the crime emerged, there was outrage that the thieves never encountered police during the route that they drove: they passed by a military police station in Campinho, a fire station, an army barracks in Madureira, and several open-air corner bars. The lack of any police presence on the streets allowed the crime to occur without interference by law enforcement.
Homage at Maracanã
Cemetery in Jardim Sulacap
João Hélio was buried at the Jardim da Saudade cemetery in Sulacap, also the final resting place of murdered Rio journalist Tim Lopes, whose manner of death in 2002 (Lopes was tortured to death by drug traffickers) also shocked the Brazilian public and triggered a cry for change.
João Hélio's casket was put into the ground surrounded by various family, relatives and friends. João Hélio's sister called out crying, "Little brother, forgive me for not being able to save you! I want my brother. I want my baby. I want to hear his voice."  Rio's public security chief, José Mariano Beltrame also attended the burial.
Solidarity march (Zona Norte)
A march occurred on March 10, 2007. Local citizens showed up in solidarity asking for peace and protesting against violence and impunity. The route of the march followed the same trajectory that the thieves had taken in the stolen car, passing through four different neighborhoods and ending at rua Caiari in Cascadura. João Hélio's parents walked front and center in the crowd. Everyone massed at the corner of João Vicente and Henrique de Melo streets where the carjacking occurred. Among the participants that day were workers, retirees, and housewives from the community.
It started on Saturday afternoon at 3:30. The sun was unusually hot, magnified by the tropical humidity and asphalt. Local thermometers measured 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). As the procession moved down the streets of the different neighborhoods, spectators noted that even elderly participants who were being affected by the strong sun were not dropping out, but continued the entire 7 km. Many walked carrying signs and banners honoring the child. Front and center of the marchers were João Hélio's parents.
Some joined the march along its path, and the word "justice!" was shouted. João's mother, Rosa Vieites said at the time, "It's very painful to walk this path, but our community has given us a lot of strength." One of those who marched explained, "The important thing is to show up on the street to march, to speak out, and to learn. We can't just accept being passively massacred by violence and do nothing." According to police estimates, about 500 people participated. During the march, 110 policemen were scattered along the route to provide protection. Rio's public security chief, José Mariano Beltrame participated in the procession. Beltrame commented on the march: "The public security can’t be put solely on the shoulders of the police forces. What the people are bravely doing in the street is a power of the public that is the very thing that can change the social paradigm of violence.
This march was an act of courage. Only three months after João Hélio’s death, on May 1, 2007, two policemen were murdered while patrolling João Vicente street, at the location where the carjacking had originally occurred. Their car was surrounded by armed gang members and sprayed with 30 bullets. The subsequent police response involved invading a large complex of favelas called the Complexo do Alemão (The German Complex) the following month.
The assailants were sentenced by Judge Marcela Assad Karam on January 30, 2008, a week before the one-year anniversary of João Hélio's murder. Before sentencing, the judge gave a statement. She remarked that the assailants had all the windows rolled down in the car that day, and it would have been impossible to ignore the loud sounds of the child's body hitting against the side of the vehicle.
Profile of assailants
- Carlos Eduardo Toledo de Lima, age 23. Was the ringleader of the group and the driver of the hijacked car. Went by the nickname "Dudu". He was the last to be taken into custody, and was arrested in Marechal Hermes, which is the neighborhood right next to Bento Ribeiro, where the João Hélio’s family had initially been the day of the hijacking. He was the one who announced the highjacking to the victims. Sentenced to 45 years imprisonment.
- Diego Nascimento da Silva, age 18. Came out of the taxi pointing a handgun - rode in the passenger seat. Pointed gun at motorcyclist. Lived near the praça (square) where the group parked and left the car. Father gave police information as to where to find him - he was hiding out in a particular hill favela (slum or shantytown) with his 16 yr-old brother and Tiago. Sentenced to 44 years imprisonment. Diego has been imprisoned in penitentiary Bangu 2. Behind bars he had a hustle going with 3 other inmates to use cell phones to make up to 1000 calls per day to random people telling them that they are holding family members hostage and then demanding ransom money.
- Ezequiel Toledo de Lima, age 16. Younger brother of the ringleader. He was 16 at the time of the crime, and confessed to being responsible for shutting the car door on the seat-belt. He was the other robber to be carrying a handgun. Released from prison in 2010 at the age of 19, he relocated to another city with the government's assistance, because he had received death threats. (While he was incarcerated, he along with two other juveniles, had attempted to murder a prison guard. He also attempted to escape). The city where he was relocated came to light in March 2012, when at the age of 21, Ezequiel was arrested for drug trafficking and being in possession of a stolen vehicle. He had been living in Iguaba Grande, which is located in the State of Rio de Janeiro in the Região dos Lagos, near Cabo Frio. It is also not far from Araruama, where the government had installed a park honoring João Hélio.
- Tiago de Abreu Matos, age 19. Was hiding out in the hillside favela with Diego and Ezequiel Was the driver of the taxi, which was owned by his father. Used taxi to transport the three to do the armed hijacking. Sentenced to 39 years imprisonment.
- Carlos Roberto da Silva, age 21. He accompanied Tiago to transport the three robbers to the assault at stoplight. Sentenced to 39 years imprisonment.
The crime intensified the discussion about what should be the “majority age” when judging criminals.
The barbaric crime sparked a wave of protest and solidarity in the population, particularly in the neighborhoods that the crime occurred. It led to a general discussion about the trivialization and devaluation of the preciousness of life. João Hélio's death was often cited in the media as an example of barbarity surfacing when street violence becomes endemic and is not sufficiently addressed.
Candelária and downtown march
Hundreds of people, among them victims of crime, families affected by violence in one form or another, and Cariocas fed up with the current state of things participated in a mass at the notable downtown cathedral, the Igreja da Candelária, in the Centro part of Rio. Catholic leader Nixon Bezerra de Brito, mentioned other brutal acts of violence that had occurred in recent years in Rio and declared that João Hélio was "a martyr in a city that doesn't know how to respect life." This occurred on Wednesday, February 14, 2007. Following the mass, there was a protest march calling for peace and an end to the violence. The march started with approximately 600 people and as others joined during the procession, the number reached about 1,600 people as they moved down Avenida Rio Branco.
Recognition by Samba schools
Several samba schools paid homage to João Hélio during the 2007 carnaval procession in Rio's Sambadrome. The samba school, Estácio de Sá, entered the Sambadrome asking for a minute of silence in homage to João Hélio. Next, the samba school Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel, also paid respects to João Hélio before beginning the procession of the bateria (drum corps procession). Porto da Pedra unveiled a banner memorializing the child. Mangueira incorporated choreography by Carlinhos de Jesus in which participants were used to form the letters of João Hélio's name.
Parks dedicated to child
Rio's governor, Sérgio Cabral, named a new, large park after João Hélio in the city of Araruama, which is 118 km (73 miles) from Rio de Janeiro. Called Parque Menino João Hélio, the park was dedicated to his memory with plaques and sculptures. One of the plaques is written with the exhortation: "Dei a minha vida, em troca peço PAZ! -João Hélio (I gave my life in trade for peace). The park has various life size sculptures by artist Luiz Costa that show the trajectory of the short life of João Hélio. Photos that were taken to capture the events of the park's inauguration also captured the profound sadness evident in the faces of João Hélio's parents.
Rio's municipal government changed the name of a tiny square near where João Hélio's body was found in the neighborhood of Cascadura. Originally called Praça Três Lagoas, it was renamed Praça João Hélio Fernandes Vieites by Rio Mayor César Maia. A small playground was subsequently installed at the site.
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