SUZANO, Brazil (Reuters) - Two former students opened fire at a Brazilian school on Wednesday and killed at least five teenagers as well as two school officials before committing suicide in an attack that police said was inspired by the 1999 Columbine massacre in the United States.
Before entering the Raul Brasil school in Suzano near Sao Paulo, the former pupils aged 17 and 25 shot and killed the younger assailant’s uncle, who owned a car rental agency where they stole a vehicle.
Ten people, including the two attackers, were killed in total, Sao Paulo police said. The students who died were boys mostly 15 and 16 years old.
Police identified the assailants as Guilherme Taucci Monteiro, 17, and Luiz Henrique de Castro, 25. The 17-year-old was the leader and main planner, an investigator said.
Another 10 people, mostly school children, were shot and injured, with several in serious condition, said police.
An amateur video aired by Globo TV showed children screaming, running and begging for their lives as loud shots were heard.
Children climbed and jumped over a wall that surrounds the school building, then sprinted down streets, screaming for help, security-camera footage from homes nearby showed.
Marilene Gonçalves, a 51-year-old housewife who lives near the school, went outside when she heard gunshots and screams. “I opened the gate to my house, and I saw children jumping over the school’s wall,” she said.
Marcelo Salles, commander of police forces in Sao Paulo state, said: “It was an unspeakably brutal crime.”
The two assailants spent more than a year planning their attack, which they “hoped would draw more attention than the Columbine massacre,” an investigator said on condition of anonymity. In the 1999 attack on Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two students killed 13 people.
A motive was not yet clear. The school is in a middle-class neighbourhood and has about 1,000 students aged 11 to 16. One teacher told police that the younger attacker had been bullied while he was a student there.
School shootings are rare in Brazil, although the country is one of the world’s most violent with more annual homicides than any other. The last major school shooting was in 2011, when 12 children were shot dead by a former pupil in Rio de Janeiro.
Gun laws are extremely strict in Brazil, but it is not difficult to illegally purchase a weapon. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro made relaxing gun control a cornerstone of his campaign last year.
Wednesday’s shooting ignited debate among political leaders, with some saying armed teachers could have prevented the killings, while others said putting more guns on Brazilian streets will only lead to more deaths.
Security camera footage from the school’s entrance published on the website of O Globo newspaper showed Monteiro entering the school around 9:30 a.m. He immediately pulled a pistol out of his jeans and shot into a group of eight students, hitting at least two, who dropped to the floor.
Castro entered the school a few seconds later and put a crossbow and backpack on the floor. He then pulled out a hatchet and hacked at the bodies on the ground.
Students flooded into the entrance foyer, running into Monteiro. He grabbed one girl by the hair and punched her several times in the face.
She managed to escape, and students frantically scrambled out of the school.
Gonçalves, the housewife who lives nearby, gave safe harbour to several students, including one boy who was shot in the jaw.
The wounded student could not speak. “I put my cell phone into his hand and he typed, with his dirty hands trembling, that he wanted me to call his mom,” Gonçalves said.
Salles said the gunmen used at least one .38 caliber pistol and speed loaders, along with a crossbow, knives, a compound bow and arrow and several Molotov cocktails.
Police arrived eight minutes after the shooting started, and the attackers were already dead, Salles said. Investigators said they had a pact to die together in the attack although Globo TV, citing police, reported that Monteiro killed Castro, and then turned the pistol on himself.
Crime scene photographs released by police show Monteiro, his head lying in a pool of blood, dressed in black with a machete tucked in his pants. Castro’s body lay near Monteiro’s, with the crossbow on the ground between the pair.
Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said as he stood outside the school, “I was shocked with the scenes I saw inside that school. It is the saddest thing I have seen in my life.”
Reporting by Lais Martins and Leonardo Benassatto in Suzano, Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Caroline Mandl in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Rosalba O'Brien and Cynthia Osterman