The family of Dom Phillips have spoken of their heartbreak over the murder of the British journalist and the Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira as colleagues said the men’s work would be an inspiration to others.
In a statement issued on behalf of Phillips’ sister Sian, his brother Gareth, and their partners and children, the family offered their thanks to those who had taken part in the 10-day search.
The Repórter Brasil news and investigations website, with whom Phillips collaborated, blacked out the top of its front page. “Mourning”, it said. “Repórter Brasil continues to investigate violence against traditional people in the countryside, as well as against all who defend you”, she said.
Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41 went missing on 5 June, at the end of a short trip down the Itaquaí River in western Brazil.
Pereira was accompanying Phillips on a reporting trip for a book about sustainable development in the Amazon but their boat did not arrive as scheduled at Atalaia do Norte, not far from Brazil’s border with Peru.
At a press briefing late on Wednesday, the regional police chief, Eduardo Fontes, announced that one of the two men arrested in connection with the pair’s disappearance had confessed to killing them.
Philips’ siblings said in their statement that they were particularly grateful for the leading efforts of the Indigenous people at a time when the local authorities were widely regarded as having taken a lethargic approach to the men’s disappearance.
With reference to the two men’s partners, Alessandra and Beatriz, the family wrote: “We are heartbroken at the confirmation that Dom and Bruno were murdered and extend our deepest sympathies to Alessandra, Beatriz and the other Brazilian family members of both men. We are grateful to all those who have taken part in the search, especially the Indigenous groups who worked tirelessly to find evidence of the attack.”
The statement went on: “In due course we will offer our perspective on the courageous lives and important work of these remarkable men but for the moment, we request that representatives of the media allow the family some peace to deal privately with what has happened to their beloved Dom.
“We thank the many people who have joined us in urging the authorities to intensify the search and those who have reached out with wards of comfort and sympathy.”
The suspect who confessed to taking part in the murder of Phillips and Pereira informed the police on Tuesday of the location of the bodies and he joined investigators to retrieve them on Wednesday.
The location, an area known as the Lago do Preguiça is 1hr 40min by boat from the river town of Atalaia do Norte and another 1.9 miles by foot into dense forest.
Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, had issued a statement on Wednesday evening in which she spoke of her relief that the bodies had been recovered after an agonizing week and a half.
“This tragic outcome puts an end to the anguish of not knowing Dom and Bruno’s whereabouts,” she wrote.
“Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love. Today, we also begin our quest for justice. I hope that the investigations exhaust all possibilities and bring definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible.”
Pereira’s wife, Beatriz Matos, tweeted: “Now that Bruno’s spirits are wandering in the forest and spread among us, our strength is much greater.”
Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner said she was “deeply saddened.”
“Dom was an outstanding reporter and long-term contributor to the Guardian,” she said. “Ella’s brave and humane journalism did so much to bring the stories of Brazil and Latin America to a global audience, through the pages of the Guardian and other news organisations.
“Bruno Pereira was a renowned defender of the rights of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and totally committed to the traditional peoples of the Amazon. At the Guardian we are so very sorry to hear this heartbreaking news and all our thoughts are with Dom and Bruno’s families and friends.”
Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor, said he hoped that the two men’s lives would be an inspiration to those who cared about the Amazon.
“This is a horror story that will chill anyone who is a journalist, anyone who cares about the Amazon, about Indigenous people, about our planetary life support systems,” Watts said. “But I hope it will inspire rather than deter editors and reporters, so that there is even more attention on the stories that Dom cared about.
“I really hope that the work Dom started can be continued and amplified. And that for me would be the only way something decent could come out of something so utterly monstrous.”
Pat Venditti, executive director of Greenpeace UK, praised Phillips and Pereira as “brave, passionate and determined men”.
In a statement, he said the men “were murdered while doing their vital work of shining a light on the daily threats Indigenous peoples in Brazil face as they defend their land and their rights”.
Venditti accused Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, of giving “political and moral license for predatory activities in and around Indigenous lands”.
“The greatest tribute we can pay Bruno and Dom now is to continue their vital work until all of Brazil’s peoples and their forests are fully protected,” the Greenpeace official added.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism