Brazil officials are investigating traces of blood found in the ongoing search for British journalist and an indigenous expert as Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, and lawmakers issue urgent calls for action to find the men.
Dom Phillips, who was a regular contributor to the Guardian and Washington Post, and Bruno Pereira were last seen Sunday in the Sao Rafael region of the Amazon rainforest where they disappeared after passing through a lawless region by boat.
Now, two men who were with the pair a day before they went missing said Thursday they tried flagging the help of authorities after being threatened by three local fishermen who flashed their guns at them a day before their disappearance.
Paulo Marubo, the president of a Javari Valley association of Indigenous people, Univaja, said Phillips snapped a picture of the men at the time, including local resident Amarildo da Costa, who is considered the main suspect in the pair’s disappearance.
After being threatened by locals, the two men who were with Phillips and Pereira said the pair went to a nearby federal base to seek help from officials.
The base permanently houses Brazil’s bureau office for Indigenous affairs, known as FUNAI, as well as policemen from the National Guard.
“We went there but they did nothing,” said Raimundo Mayoruna, one of the men who was with Phillips and Pereira the night before they disappeared. “They didn’t go after Pelado at all. They didn’t want to help us.”
CALLS FOR ACTION
Actor Mark Ruffalo, soccer legend Pelé, and US President Joe Biden are among the notable names urging the Brazilian government to intensify efforts to find the men who went missing on Sunday.
The “Shutter Island” actor took to Twitter as he called for an “international response”, stressing the worrying number of journalists being “attacked, killed, or disappeared.”
“There needs to be an international response to this. The trend of journalists being attacked, killed, or disappeared in rightward veering ‘democracies’ must be called out,” Ruffalo tweeted.
Soccer superstar Pelé said he was “moved” by the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira, as he called on leaders to heighten search efforts.
“The fight for the preservation of the Amazon Forest and of the indigenous groups belongs to all of us,” the multi-winning Ballon d’Or athlete tweeted.
“I am moved by the disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Ferreira, who dedicate their lives to this cause. I join the many voices that make the appeal to intensify the search.”
Brazilian actress Camila Pitanga also spoke out about the ordeal on Twitter, writing, “WHERE IS BRUNO AND DOM? @govbr @DefesaGovBR and @policiafederal, Bruno and Dom have been missing for over 48 hours and we need ALL the necessary resources to find them as soon as possible.
“The disregard for environmental activists needs to end.”
On Thursday, President Biden met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Los Angeles to discuss what’s being done to find the missing men.
As the pair met for emergency talks, two trucks parked in the middle of an avenue showed illustrations of Phillips and Pereira, alongside the message, “THREATENED. NOW MISSING. WHERE ARE DOM & BRUNO?”
Several US lawmakers called for action on Twitter, including Sen. Ed Markey, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I am troubled by reports that Brazil’s Bolsonaro wants to avoid discussing Amazon deforestation and efforts to undermine the integrity of Brazil’s upcoming elections at the Summit of the Americas this week. The U.S. must press him on both issues,” he tweeted.
DETAILS OF THE CASE
Police found blood on a boat belonging to local fisherman da Costa, who was arrested and questioned by cops.
On Thursday, officials said a forensic officer and state police were checking for “possible genetic material” on the boat containing blood stains to see if it belonged to a human or an animal.
Da Costa, also known as “Pelado” in his community, was charged with illegal possession of restricted ammunition.
Police say he was one of the last people to see the two missing individuals, and suspect he was involved in illegal fishing for a buyer in Peru.
In their search efforts for the two missing men, officials say they are focusing on people involved in illegal fishing and poaching in indigenous lands.
Police investigated six other people in connection with Phillips and Pereira’s disappearance.
Pereira — who recently received threats over his work combating illegal fishing — and Phillips, were on a reporting trip in the Javari Valley, a remote jungle area near the Peruvian and Colombian border, when they disappeared.
The region often sees illegal hunters and fishermen pass through, according to police.
Phillips, who has reported from Brazil for more than a decade, has been working on a book about the preservation of the Amazon.
Phillips has also contributed to the Washington Post and New York Times. He currently resides in Salvador, a city in Brazil’s Bahia state, with his wife, Alessandra Sampaio.
With Post wires