Human remains have been found in the search for a British journalist and Brazilian indigenous expert who disappeared deep in the Amazon after receiving threats, Brazil’s president confirmed Monday.
Relatives of the missing men — veteran correspondent Dom Phillips, 57, and respected indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira, 41 — meanwhile said Brazilian authorities had informed them two bodies had been found in the search.
The men’s families have endured an anguished wait for news since they disappeared a week ago Sunday during a reporting trip to Brazil’s Javari Valley, a remote jungle region rife with illegal fishing, logging, mining and drug trafficking.
“The evidence leads us to believe something bad was done to them, because human innards were found floating in the river, which are now undergoing DNA testing,” President Jair Bolsonaro said.
Bolsonaro, whose government has faced accusations of failing to act urgently enough in the case, said hope was fading.
“Because of the time that’s passed — eight days now, approaching the ninth — it’s going to be very difficult to find them alive,” the president told CBN Recife radio.
“I pray to God for that to happen, but the information and evidence we’re getting suggest the opposite.”
– ‘Upset and distressed’ –
The search has been complicated given the difficult jungle terrain in the far-flung Javari Valley, where the men had traveled by boat gathering material for a book Phillips was writing about sustainable ways to protect the world’s biggest rainforest.
Phillips’s niece Dominique Davies told AFP via text message that authorities had informed the family two bodies had been found.
“We are waiting on confirmation from the federal police (in Brazil) as to whether they are Dom and Bruno. We all remain upset and distressed at this time,” she said.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper, where Phillips was a regular contributor, said the bodies were found tied to a tree, according to information given to Phillips’s family by an aide to Brazil’s ambassador in London.
Phillips’s Brazilian wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said she had also been told by authorities that two bodies had been found, and that investigators were working to identify them, according to journalist Andre Trigueiro of TV Globo, Brazil’s biggest broadcaster.
Federal police said in a statement that reports that Phillips and Pereira’s bodies had been found were incorrect, but declined to comment further.
The police have confirmed they are analyzing a blood sample and suspected human remains found during the search to determine whether they are from the missing men.
They said Sunday they had found personal items belonging to the two, including Pereira’s health card, pants and boots, as well as Phillips’s backpack and clothing.
Police have arrested a suspect in the case, 41-year-old Amarildo Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed “Pelado.”
Witnesses say they saw him threaten Phillips and Pereira prior to their disappearance, then pursue them in his boat just before they disappeared.
The blood sample being analyzed was found on a tarp in Oliveira’s boat.
– U2 adds to pressure –
Phillips’s mother-in-law said Sunday the family had lost hope of finding the pair alive.
“They are no longer with us. Mother Nature has snatched them away with a grateful embrace,” she posted online.
“Their souls have joined those of so many others who gave their lives in defense of the rainforest and Indigenous peoples.”
Brazil’s government faces pressure from leading international media organizations, rights groups and high-profile figures over the case — fueling criticism of Bolsonaro’s policies on the Amazon, where illegal deforestation and other environmental crimes have surged since he took office in 2019.
Irish rock band U2 became the latest to rally to the cause, joining Brazilian football legend Pele and iconic singer Caetano Veloso.
“We are waiting to find out what has happened to these courageous men,” the band wrote in a tweet signed by bassist Adam Clayton, along with a red-and-black drawing of the pair by artist Cristiano Siqueira that has gone viral.
“Where are Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira?” it reads.