Brazil Seeks Answers in ‘Amityville’ Copycat Murders

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Mark St George / Rex / Rex USA

CCTV of 13-year-old Marcelo Pesseghini walking to school after the killings on the morning of Aug.5, 2013.

It was a tragic incident, as inexplicable as it was shocking. According to local police, Marcelo Pesseghini, a 13-year-old Brazilian boy in Sao Paulo, took his father’s pistol late Sunday night and shot his policemen parents, his grandmother, his great aunt and, the next day, himself.

The killings shocked the country and drew international coverage that pounced on indications that he was inspired by the 1974 murder of a family in Amityville, New York (the basis for the supernatural horror book and subsequent film, The Amityville Horror). But in Brazil, where retaliation against police is common in the longstanding war on organized crime, another theory has gained steam.

A colonel in charge of the mother’s police battalion fed fuel to the fire when he told local radio Wednesday that the boy’s mother, Andreia Pesseghini, had previously provided useful information in an inquiry into police officers suspected in a series of ATM robberies.

Investigators say there is ample evidence that suggests the boy was the culprit, but the commander’s comments have sparked suspicions that the killing spree was not a horrifying, freak incident, but, instead, another episode in the city’s vicious ongoing crime battle. “Today I am not convinced,” Police Colonel Wagner Dimas said on radio.

Once a hotbed for gang violence, including a spate of clashes between gangs and the police in May 2006 that left 186 people dead, Sao Paulo has seen dramatic drops in homicides. But gangs continue to target police officers (more than 70 were killed last year), and a series of ATM heists linked to current and former officers revealed the level of corruption within the force.

Dimas, who has since clarified that there was no formal ongoing investigation into police involvement in the thefts, suggested Andreia Pesseghini, 36, may have been targeted for providing information on the crimes. Marcelo’s father, 40-year-old Luís Marcelo Pesseghini, was a member of the elite Rota SWAT team in the Sao Paulo police force that has garnered notoriety for its brutal crackdowns on criminal gangs.

Between 1980 and 2011, Brazil was the 7th most violent country in the world. Nearly 41,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2010, according to UN statistics, or about 21 per every 100,000 people. By way of comparison, the murder rate in the U.S. that year was 4.8 per every 100,000. Brazil has redoubled efforts, with limited success and not without controversy, to combat the violence as it prepares to host the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016.

Investigators have said they will pursue Dimas’s claims but confirmed that Marcelo Pesseghini remains the only suspect. The boy allegedly killed all four members in his family over the night between Sunday and Monday. Afterward, security cameras show that he drove his mother’s car to school early that morning and then spent the day in school before receiving a ride home from a friend’s father. He was found dead with a gun in his hand.

Investigators say they found a separate revolver in his school backpack, and they spoke to a friend of Marcelo Pesseghini’s who said the boy had said he wanted to be a hired killer and planned to kill his parents and run away in his mother’s car. He had also uploaded to social media a famous photograph that ostensibly depicts the ghost of one of the victims in the Amityville massacre, when, in 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his parents, two brothers, and two sisters while they slept.