MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — A fisherman confessed to killing a British journalist and an Indigenous expert in Brazil’s remote Amazon region and took police to a site where human remains were recovered, a federal investigator said after a grim 10-day search for the missing pair.
Authorities said Wednesday that they expected to make more arrests in the case of freelance reporter Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira of Brazil, who disappeared June 5. None had been made as of Thursday morning, but police said searches for the boat the two had used were about to restart.
They gave no immediate explanation of a motive for the killing, but earlier suggested that Pereira’s work to stop illegal fishing in an Indigenous reserve had angered local fishermen.
At a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus, a federal police investigator said the prime suspect in the case confessed Tuesday night and detailed what happened to Phillips and Pereira. Investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill the men.
“We would have no way of getting to that spot quickly without the confession,” Torres said of the place where police recovered human remains Wednesday after being led there by de Oliveira.
Torres said the remains were expected to be identified within days, and if confirmed as the missing men, “will be returned to the families of the two.”
“We found the bodies t3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) into the woods,” the investigator said, adding that officers traveled about one hour and forty minutes by boat and 25 more into the woods to reach the burial spot.
The suspect’s family had said previously that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him to try to get a confession.
Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police, said the missing men’s boat had not been found yet but police knew the area where it purportedly was hidden.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink,” he said. The engine of the boat was removed, according to investigators.
Military leaders also had joined the effort to find Phillips and Pereira a few days after their disappearance was reported.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and Indigenous experts, has drawn criticism that the government didn’t get involved fast enough. Before the bodies were discovered on Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying that locals in the area where he went missing didn’t like him and that he should have been more careful in the region.
Efforts to find the two were started by Indigenous peoples in the region. UNIVAJA, an association of Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” in a statement Wednesday, adding they only had help and protection from local police.
Colleagues of Pereira called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia from which he was on leave.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
On Wednesday morning, journalists saw federal police officers take a hooded suspect they didn’t initially identify out on the river toward search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira.
On Tuesday, police said they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance and identified him as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and a brother of the initial suspect.
Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before the pair disappeared.
Official search teams concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai river where a tarp from the missing men’s boat was found Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group.
They found a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater Sunday.
Police previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado’s boat.
Authorities have said a main line of investigation has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory.
Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the federal Indigenous agency, had took part in several operations against illegal fishing. which usually lead to seizure of fishing gear and fines for violators. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories.
But police have not ruled ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.
Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the discovery of bodies “puts an end to the anguish of not knowing Dom and Bruno’s whereabouts.”
“Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love,” Sampaio said in a statement. ”Today, we also begin our quest for justice.”
Pereira’s wife Beatriz Matos expressed her grief on Thursday.
“Now that Bruno’s spirits are strolling in the forest and spread on us, our strength is much bigger,” she said on Twitter.
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.