The death of a young pregnant woman who reportedly died from a stray bullet during a police shoot-out has pushed a community in a violence-plagued nation to the brink.
The heartbreaking death of 24-year-old Brazilian woman Kathlen Romeu came after she posted a picture to Instagram showing the early stages of a baby bump on June 2.
"I am discovering myself as a mother, and I am scared thinking about how it is going to be," she wrote.
Just days later she would be dead.
Early last week the influencer was struck in the torso by a stray bullet during a police shoot-out with drug traffickers in a working-class neighbourhood, near a favela north of Rio de Janeiro.
The young woman was rushed to hospital, but neither she nor her baby survived.
Nadine Borges, the vice-president of the human rights commission at the Brazilian Bar Association, told The Guardian witness testimony suggested the fatal shot came from the police position during a raid.
Meanwhile some residents have questioned whether local traffickers even had time to return police gunfire before Ms Romeu was shot.
The accidental killing has sparked an outpouring of grief and protest in the country, sparking national headlines as questions remain about the conduct of police and the handling of subsequent investigations.
The tragedy has also put a spotlight on the infamous favelas of the city – areas of the country long gripped by gang violence and narcotics trafficking.
Serious questions raised over police conduct surrounding killing
More than 100 people gathered last week for the woman's funeral and burial as mourners crowded into the narrow alleys of the cemetery in Rio de Janeiro.
"We just want justice, that’s all," a friend told The Associated Press.
Rodrigo Deniz, 25, who described himself as the victim's best friend told reporters: “A part of me is being buried now."
Ms Romeu's grandmother was overcome with emotion and had to be carried out.
Speaking to Yahoo News Brazil, friends and family member of the slain woman accused authorities of returning to the scene of her death to remove bullet casings after the story generated such high levels of national outrage.
"Since the story has had so much impact, let's see if we can get real justice," the victim's godmother said.
A separate witness disputed the official account of the woman getting caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out, telling Yahoo there was no confrontation between police and criminal groups at the time of her being hit.
"I was there... It was only after she was shot that the agents realised what they had done, called for backup and put Kathlen in the vehicle," they said, requesting anonymity for fear of police reprisal.
Police have launched three separate investigations into the fatal incident.
'Repeated so often it makes you sick'
Lamenting the 24-year-old's death, popular Brazilian actor Ícaro Silva took to social media to decry the regularity of such deaths.
"The news is repeated so often it makes you sick. Innocent. Black. Dead. Police operation," he wrote in Instagram, sharing a photo of Ms Romeu.
The community where Ms Romeu was killed is only a few kilometres from the Jacarezinho favela where last month police killed more than two dozen people they alleged were criminals. One of the city’s deadliest-ever police operations, it prompted claims of human rights abuses and days of protest followed.
A Supreme Court ruling last year prohibited police operations in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic except in “absolutely exceptional” circumstances. The ruling did see a notable drop in police killings, according to to Crossfire, a non-governmental data project that tracks armed violence.
Still, the group registered more than 4500 such events in 2020, with more than 100 people hit by stray bullets and the number of police shootings is again on the rise.
Shockingly, stray bullets have struck at least six pregnant women in Rio since 2017, but Ms Romeu was the first to die, the Crossfire group said.
Since 2017, nearly 700 women were shot in the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro.
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