GUARUJÁ, SÃO PAULO STATE – Police in the Brazilian city of Guarujá, in São Paulo state, have arrested a man and are searching for further suspects after a woman died after being beaten by locals as a result of rumours posted online.
The woman, Fabiane Maria de Jesus, 33, was attacked by a group of people on Saturday in the coastal city after being mistaken for a suspected kidnapper rumoured to use children in black magic rituals, whose photo appeared on a community page on Facebook.
Abductions have been reported in the region, but police say there is no evidence connecting De Jesus, a housewife, with any such crime, Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported.
Local media say a number of factors may have led locals to mistake De Jesus for the alleged child abductor: the housewife was seen returning from church with photos of her children and a Bible, which might have been construed as a ritual book, and was also reportedly seen offering a banana to children.
She had also dyed her hair the day before, giving her a passing resemblance to the suspect whose photo was published on the Guarujá Alerta page.
De Jesus was rescued from the scene by military police, but only after around two hours into the assault, by which time she had sustained serious head injuries.
She died on Monday in a local hospital.
Police say a 48-year-old man has been arrested and has admitted his role in the assault. He is believed to have struck the woman on the head with a piece of wood.
Shocking footage of the lynching, which shows the woman’s apparently-lifeless body being beaten and dragged along a dirt track in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, have been shared widely on social media and broadcast on Brazilian news channels.
Police say at least ten people were actively involved in the attack, but footage shows dozens of people shouting obscenities at the woman and further inciting the assault.
São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, visiting the city on Wednesday, labelled the attack “barbaric”:
“The whole affair was very sad. It’s an act of barbarity committed against an innocent person who had nothing to do with the rumour,” GloboNews quoted the governor as saying.
“Our complete solidarity with the family and the police in catching those responsible and bringing them to justice.”
Alckmin also revealed that police had identified at least five other suspects, in addition to the 48-year-old already in police custody, whose arrests are expected in the coming hours and days.
All were identified from footage handed to police or uploaded to social media.
Although a small minority has defended the group’s actions, the vast majority of Brazilians have voiced their horror at the attack. A protest march by friends and family followed De Jesus’s funeral.
Guarujá is a seaside city and port located 60km from São Paulo, and is a favourite with families from the state capital due to its beaches and proximity.