The Guardian reports that one of the leaders of the gang of river pirates who robbed and murdered a British kayaker in the Amazon has been killed, Brazilian police have said.
Evanilson Gomes da Costa, known as Baia, 24, was shot in the early hours and later died of his wounds in hospital, according to a statement by one of the suspects, who said the dead man had fired shots at former primary school headteacher Emma Kelty.
Kelty, 43, was canoeing alone from the source of the Amazon to the Atlantic when she went missing in the Solimões area, as the upper stretches of the river are known. The area is notorious for its pirates and drug trade.
She triggered a distress signal last Wednesday, but despite an extensive search by Brazilian police and navy, her body has not yet been found. Kelty knew she was heading into a dangerous area and even joked on her Facebook about the risks she faced.
Kelty is believed to have pitched her tent on Boieiro island, facing the remote community of Lauro Sodré, before she set off her locator flare last Wednesday. A suspect arrested on Monday in Codajás said Kelty was approached by two people. Five others arrived and the group stole her belongings.
She was shot twice with a sawn-off shotgun and dumped in the river before the gang stole her mobile phones, money, a drone, a tablet and GoPro camera and tried to sell them, according to the suspect. Police named him on Wednesday as Jardel Pinheiro Gomes, known as Kael, and corrected his age to 19, not 17 as he had previously claimed.
An unnamed 17-year-old was also arrested as well as a third man, named as Erinei Ferreira da Silva, 28.
Police were hunting four further suspects, including Gomes, but learned on Wednesday that he had been hit by gunfire inside his house in Coari, a city around two hours from Lauro Sodré where Kelty is believed to have been murdered.
“According to investigations, people supposedly linked to the drug trade in the area were named as responsible for the execution of the offender, who was 24. He was rescued, taken to a hospital in the municipality, but succumbed to his injuries and died around 8.30am today,” police said in a statement. Gomes was one of the leaders of the ‘Water Pirates’ or ‘Water Rats’, a gang who stole merchandise, killed people and were connected to the drug trade, the police statement said.
Detective José Barradas Júnior, chief detective in Coari, told the Guardian he believed da Costa was killed by rival gangsters for the possessions his gang had taken from Kelty and before dying named the man who shot him.
Barradas Júnior said one of the investigating officers had told him that locals reported seeing Kelty pass by in her kayak hours before she was killed. They had tried to warn her of the danger she could be in and offered their houses for her to sleep in for safety, but she did not understand.
“Neither she nor they could communicate. They were trying to tell her the risk she was running,” he said.
He said Gomes da Costa and his accomplice Arthur Gomes da Silva, known as Beira, were two of the leaders of the Water Rats.
A third man, one of three police are still searching for, acted as a lookout, advising them if anyone was camping nearby. Arthur Gomes da Silva is still at large, as are two others, named as Erimar and Nilson Ferreira da Silva, both brothers of Erinei.
According to the testimony, Gomes da Costa and da Silva approached Kelty’s tent and shot her with a shotgun, wounding her. When she shouted in pain, they assumed she was Peruvian and possibly carrying drugs.
Barradas Júnior said: “They are used to robbing Peruvians on the river, they have already done this with other foreigners who passed there, generally strangers who carry drugs.”
Wounded, yet conscious Kelty was shot again dragged to the river and attacked with a machete, then “they threw her in the middle of the river, which is the deepest part”.
Barradas Júnior said the authorities should warn other Britons planning to visit the Amazon to travel in organised groups, and not alone – especially in the Solimões river area, which is a major trafficking route for drugs from Peru and Colombia that are heading to Europe.
On Wednesday Kelty’s brothers Piers and Giles and her sister Tash posted a tribute on her Facebook. It said: “Emma was an active and determined sister who challenged herself, latterly through her adventures on the Pacific Coast Trail, as well as in the South Pole and Amazon River.
“In a world that is today a much smaller place, the explorer in our sister found herself seeking ways to prove that challenges were achievable. We are extremely proud of our sister who was dearly loved by us all and her strength will be sorely missed. We wish to give our immense thanks to the Brazilian navy, police and Foreign Office for their action and support,” they wrote, adding links to three charities Kelty had been fundraising for: Cancer Research UK, Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teach Africa.