Venezuela says farewell to slain beauty queen

Dozens of teary-eyed mourners gathered in the Caracas suburb of La Guarita on Thursday to begin saying their final farewells to fallen beauty queen Monica Spear and her ex-husband, Henry Thomas Berry.

The couple, who were murdered Monday in a roadside robbery that has rattled the nation, will be laid to rest Friday.

For many at Thursday’s memorial, their grief was mixed with frustration about the country’s rampant crime.

“This time it’s someone famous, but it happens so much — it’s tragic,” said Alidi Barred, 39, a saleswoman. “It fills me with rage that we have to live in fear.”

Spear, 29, and Berry, 49, were killed late Monday in the state of Carabobo as they were pulled over on the side off the road after having car trouble. Their 5-year old daughter, Maya, was shot in the leg but is said to be in stable condition.

“Venezuela has lost an angel; this never should have happened,” said an emotional Katty Pulido, 59, Spear’s former manager and long-time friend. 

Seven people have been arrested in connection with the murder, including two minors, authorities said.

José Gregorio Sierralta, the head of the country’s criminal investigation unit, known as the CICPC, said investigators had found Spear’s digital camera at the house of one of the alleged criminals, helping break open the case.

Sierralta said an additional four people are being sought, but that the alleged trigger-man, who he identified as Jean Carlos Colina Alcalá, 19, is among those detained.

“We can inform the Venezuelan people that there has been a concrete resolution to this lamentable case,” he said.

Spear also was memorialized Thursday in Miami, where she lived temporarily while filming her last telenovela.

On Wednesday, Maduro had speculated that the murder seemed like a “ sicariato,” or a contract killing.

The death of Spear, who won Miss Venezuela in 2004, has put Venezuela’s crime back in the spotlight.

The government has not released comprehensive crime statistics since 2003, but the Observatory of Venezuelan Violence reports that murders have risen fourfold in the last 15 years. According to the organization, there were approximately 24,763 murders in 2013, giving Venezuela a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 inhabitants — the highest in the world after Honduras.

On Thursday, Maduro said the administration would roll out a “new Venezuelan pacification plan” by Feb. 8 to fight the violence, which he described as bordering on “social warfare.”

That announcement followed on the heels of a hastily convened meeting Wednesday, between Maduro, mayors and governors from all 79 of Venezuela’s municipalities to review his national security plan.

In a rare showing of solidarity, the president shook hands with his opposition foe Henrique Capriles and appealed for unity.

“The authorities must come together to find common ground, to work together,” Maduro said. “Nobody can cross their arms. The slaughter of this young Venezuelan is a slap in the face to all of us. Let everyone take responsibility. I’ll take mine.”

Still, it’s unclear whether Venezuela’s leaders are ready to put aside their bitter political differences to confront the country’s epidemic violence.

“With only rhetoric, they will never solve insecurity,” Capriles said Thursday. “Immediate actions are required, not a TV show to give the illusion that something is being done.”

Meanwhile, for the Spear family, there are more pressing matters.

“I think both sides need to come together to stop the violence,” said Rafael Spear, 61, Monica’s father. “But for me, the priority now is getting my granddaughter out of here.”

Andean Bureau Chief Jim Wyss contributed to this report from Bogotá.