Beauty queen’s alleged killers nabbed in Venezuela

(CNN) — The killers of a Venezuelan soap opera star and former beauty queen are among seven suspects who have been arrested, Venezuela’s interior minister said.

The shooting deaths of actress Monica Spear and her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, have galvanized the public to turn up the pressure on the government to act on Venezuela’s high crime rates.

The victims’ 5-year-old daughter witnessed the roadside shooting and suffered a gunshot wound herself but survived.

No one has been charged, but officials say there is evidence linking the group of suspected gang members to the double homicide.

“It’s terrible that this happened, and society has to react,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said at a security meeting he convened with mayors and governors on Wednesday. “It is not time to faint, to throw in the towel, to let our guard down. To the contrary, it’s time to react.”

But during the same meeting, Maduro theorized that the killings may not have been a robbery or a normal street crime.

“This murder seems more like a contract killing,” he said.

The president did not elaborate on his statement.

The head of Venezuela’s national crime investigation agency said Thursday that investigators believe robbery was the motive in the attack.

Four men, a woman and two minors with ties to the crime have been arrested. Four other suspects remain on the loose, including the man believed to have the murder weapon, said Jose Gregorio Sierralta, director of the Corps of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations.

“We have managed to apprehend and totally break up this dangerous gang,” he said.

A key piece of evidence helped authorities identify who was behind the deadly shooting, Sierralta said: Spear’s digital camera.

Investigators found the camera in the home of one of the suspects, he said.

Sierralta stressed that dealing with violence is not just the government’s responsibility.

“Crime is everyone’s problem,” he said. “We cannot distance ourselves from this reality. … We must reflect on each case as parents, as professionals. What are Venezuelans doing to help to solve these expressions of criminality that are so strong that have been affecting us in recent months?”

Spear was Miss Venezuela in 2004 and represented her country in the Miss Universe pageant the next year.

Her popularity opened the door to acting roles in soap operas that eventually made her an international star.

Spear, who studied theater at the University of Central Florida before winning the Miss Venezuela crown, appeared on the Telemundo soap operas “Flor Salvaje” (Savage Flower) and “Pasion Prohibida” (Forbidden Passion).

Her brother, Ricardo Spear, told HLN’s Nancy Grace that the actress’ daughter was released from the hospital and was with family.

The child does not know that her parents are dead, and the family has reached out to psychologists about how to handle the situation, Ricardo Spear said.

“We’re going to do it slowly. We’re going to use metaphors: They went to heaven; they’re up there watching you; they’re taking care of you; they love you,” he said.

The Spear family is not one to hold on to anger, the brother said, and has nothing to say to whoever ended Monica Spear’s life. Family members are filled with sadness but hope that something good can come from the tragedy, he said. .

Venezuela is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to a United Nations ranking.

One person is killed roughly every 21 minutes in Venezuela. And there were 24,700 violent deaths last year in the oil-rich country of roughly 30 million people, according to the nonprofit Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

The observatory says the country’s murder rate has soared to nearly 80 deaths per 100,000 people. Government statistics put the figure significantly lower, at 39 deaths per 100,000.

CNN’s Alejandra Oraa contributed to this report.

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