The killing of three physicians along a popular tourist beach is sure to inflame the divisive debate over violence and safety in the largest nation in Latin America. The homicide rate in Brazil has been falling in recent years, but violence remains one of its most intractable social issues, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, an oceanside metropolis where gangs, militias and militaristic police forces vie for control. Authorities have neither announced a motive for the killings nor any suspects. They will investigate whether the killings were politically motivated, they said.
One of the slain doctors, Diego Ralf Bomfim, 35, was from a prominent leftist family. The orthopedic surgeon was brother to federal congresswoman Sâmia Bomfim, a progressive politician who announced last year that she had received death threats. The doctor was also brother-in-law to congressman Glauber Braga. Both politicians belong to the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party.
Also killed were Marcos de Andrade Corsato, 62, an orthopedic physician at Hospital das Clínicas de São Paulo, considered the largest hospital in Latin America, and Perseu Ribeiro Almeida, 33, who specialized in foot and ankle surgery. Daniel Sonnewend Proença, a 33-year-old specialist in orthopedic surgery, was injured in the shooting. He was reported to be in stable condition.
“With the possibility of this being related to two federal congress members, I’ve called upon the federal police to analyze the investigation of the execution of the doctors in Rio,” Justice Minister Flavio Dino said Thursday morning.
The killings occurred in the oceanside neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca, a wealthy area of town with a line of oceanside apartment buildings and luxury hotels. The neighborhood, which provided the venue for the orthopedic conference, has long been considered one of the safest of this notoriously turbulent city.
Tadeu de Lima Barbosa, who managed the kiosk named Nana 2, told the newspaper O Globo the men were preparing to leave when they were killed. “They’d already paid the check,” he said. Even in a country long inured to extreme violence, the killings shocked many Brazilians. The shooting dominated the country’s media Thursday morning and sparked a nationwide conversation on social media about violence, politics and how forcefully to fight crime.
“This crime will not go unpunished!” announced Rio de Janeiro Gov. Claudio Castro on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Society and institutions need to understand that facing criminal organizations will only be possible with the strength and unity of the states and federal government.” In a statement on X, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed “sadness and indignation.”
Some commentators drew a connection to the assassination of leftist Rio politician Marielle Franco, whose 2017 killing rattled the country and remains under investigation by authorities. “It’s not a coincidence that family members of leftist politicians are executed,” commentator Pedro Ronchi said on social media. “It’s the modus operandi to combat whomever confronts the system of militias.”