Police in the Brazilian Amazon state of Pará are investigating the killing of three members of the same family who were shot dead at the riverside home where they bred turtles.
The deaths happened on the island of Cachoeira da Mucura, on the banks of the Xingu River, in São Félix do Xingu and regional media named the victims as José Gomes, his wife Márcia Nunes Lisboa and her teenage daughter, Joane Nunes Lisboa.
Police confirmed to the Guardian that they do not yet know the motive for the killings.
José Carlos Rodrigues, the civil police chief leading the investigation, told the Diário do Pará newspaper that the crimes had shocked the city.
On social media, environmentalists and human rights activists mourned the loss of the family.
“They worked for life in the river, for life on land and for life in general. And they were killed, their lives taken with gunshots,” wrote Marina Silva, a former environment minister, in a Twitter post.
The bodies were found on Sunday outside the family home in the early stages of decomposition.
“Those responsible for the crimes must be identified and held accountable quickly and effectively,” said Amnesty International Brazil in a public statement.
“The Brazilian state has the obligation to act to contain the wave of violence and the cycle of impunity that are perpetuated in the Amazon region and throughout the national territory.”
In videos shared on social media of the crime scene, one of the bodies floats in the river, another lies fallen by its banks and another lies collapsed and barefoot in a puddle.
Gomes’ son discovered the bodies.
Gomes and his family bred thousands of baby turtles, which they released into the river once a year, sometimes with help from neighbours or local people.
In isolated indigenous and riverine communities of Brazil’s Amazon, eating turtles is common and replenishment projects like Gomes’ have been vital to maintaining the population.
In a video from December, published on the Diário do Pará website, Gomes releases buckets of baby turtles into the river, explaining how the family has done this work for 20 years.
“Today, we’re trying to repopulate these baby turtles in the river so that in the future our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can still catch these turtles,” he said.
Brazil was ranked the fourth-deadliest country for land and environmental defenders in 2020, according to a report released by the NGO Global Witness last year. Nearly three quarters of 20 killings recorded happened in Brazil’s nine Amazon states.
Such murders mostly go unpunished, perpetuating a cycle of violence and impunity.
Pará, which has an area five times that of the UK, has been one of Brazil’s deadliest states for land defenders, with less than 5% of land-conflict killings going to court, according to Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission, a land violence watchdog.
While murders of land and environmental defenders in Brazil have fallen since a peak in 2017, when Global Witness recorded 57 killings, the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has overseen a dramatic increase in deforestation in the Amazon, according to government data.
São Félix do Xingu consistently tops Brazil’s most deforested municipalities, according to government data.