A 14-year-old suspected of participating in the brutal gang rape of an American student inside a moving public transit van as her handcuffed French boyfriend looked on helplessly has been arrested, according to a news report out of Brazil
O Globo newspaper said the teen was apprehended in a hiding place in downtown Rio on Sunday.
He is the fourth suspect to be taken into custody in connection with the March 30 attack on the American and her companion, who were held for six hours, robbed and beaten before being dumped by the roadside. The other three suspects, aged 20-22, include the van's driver.
The report says the teenager was the van's money-taker. It says he has acknowledged robbing the couple and beating the man but denied taking part in the rape.
The late-night gang rape last week has shocked the resort city of Rio. Many are asking whether the city or Brazilian authorities are up to the task of protecting the waves of tourists expected to flood the city during the upcoming double-header of megaevents: the World Cup next year and the 2016 Olympics.
Some observers said the attack came as a particular shock given that safety has improved at least in the city's tourist-friendly, seaside South Zone neighborhoods. Foreigners and moneyed local residents who even three or four years ago would have hesitated to hail a taxi in the street or walk around after dark now do both without thinking twice.
"No one expects to be attacked in Disneyland, handcuffed and roughed up," Globo newspaper quoted Alfredo Lopes, the head of an association representing Brazil's hotel sector. "Copacabana is our Disneyland."
Yet it was in that very beach front neighborhood, full of senior citizens in bikinis by day but seedier by night, that the two foreigners hailed one of the fleet of public transit vans often used as a speedier alternative to buses. Police investigating the case say the two foreigners, both in their early-20s, were headed shortly after midnight to Lapa, a popular downtown nightlife hotspot where Rio's youth converges on clubs, bars and samba venues.
But the pair never made it to their destination. A few minutes into their journey, the van operators forced the other passengers off and inflicted on the two foreigners what Alexandre Braga, the police officer leading the investigation, has called a "party of evil."
The men split up the driving, ending up in Rio's sister city of Niteroi across Guanabara Bay, where they went on a spending spree with the foreigners' credit cards. Once they hit the limit on both cards, spending around $500 at gas stations and convenience stores, the suspects drove the pair back to Rio, where the foreigners were staying, and forced the woman to fetch another credit card, Braga said.
Although she was alone, she didn't call the police or alert anyone, Braga said, "because the young man was still under the suspects' control and she feared something even worse might happen to him."
Some six hours after they were kidnapped, the two were dumped by the side of a highway near the city of Itaborai, some 50 kilometers from Rio. They managed to make it to an unidentified country's consulate, where officials took the two to the special police delegation that specializes in crimes against foreigners. The young woman has returned to the U.S., while the man remains in Rio to help with the investigations, Braga said.
The suspects allegedly had rented the van, which seats about a dozen people and has dark tinted windows, from the vehicle's owner, who police say is not suspected of any involvement in the crime.
Rio's van services are widely reviled for their precarious safety conditions and reckless driving, as well as their links to organized crime. Some vans are run by militias largely composed of former police and firemen who control large swaths of the city's slums and run clandestine transportation and other services. In general, tourists avoid the vans and opt for regular buses or taxis.
Sexual assaults remain a problem on public transit. Last year, a woman was raped on a moving bus in broad daylight in a widely publicized case, and the Rio subway has special women-only cars to help prevent such attacks.
Still, Brazilian officials emphasized Rio is not particularly prone to such attacks.
"I think sexual violence is something that can happen anywhere," said Aparecida Goncalves, Brazil's national secretary for violence against women. "I don't think that the city of Rio is more dangerous than others."
"Now we have more ways of denouncing them," she said, "of talking about and taking the necessary measures so those responsible are punished and imprisoned."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.