Gisborne teenager caught up in Brazilian crime wave

NZ exchange student describes scenes in the city of Vitoria as 'horrific and extremely disturbing'.

A Gisborne teenager on a 10-month AFS student exchange is in the middle of the violent crime wave in the southeastern Brazilian city of Vitoria.

Former Campion College student Shahni Deere, who has been in Vitoria for the last six months, can't believe what is going on.

More than 1000 troops are patrolling the streets, where more than 70 people have been killed over two days, authorities said earlier this week.

The deaths in the city in Espirito Santo state came as patrol cars stopped cruising the streets while the friends and family of military police officers blocked their barracks to demand higher pay for their uniformed loved ones.

Troops were deployed to help halt the growing crime.

In the state capital of Vitoria, store windows were smashed and metal shutters used to protect shops peeled away as looters took advantage of the vacuum in law enforcement.

Civil police used force to stop some thieves, shooting at least one man in the leg.

Shahni has mixed emotions about the situation and is struggling to comprehend what is going on.

"For the last few days I've been stuck in the middle of something completely out of my control," she told The Gisborne Herald.

"I've been left feeling extremely scared about the safety of myself and those I love to feeling so angry and in disbelief that this is happening, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

"And quite frankly I still can't believe this happens in real life. I never in my life thought humans, anywhere in the world, would act like this," she said.

A civil police officer stands guard over a looter shot in the leg by the civil police while looting an electronic store in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil. Photo / AP
A civil police officer stands guard over a looter shot in the leg by the civil police while looting an electronic store in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil. Photo / AP

Shahni has not been personally affected by any of the violence but has been exposed to it.

"I have seen horrific and extremely disturbing pictures and videos of the chaos in the streets.

"People are being murdered or beaten half to death. Shots are being fired for no other reason than 'there are no police, no one can stop us'."

Several men went to a shopping mall close to where she is living and started shooting anybody who was unlucky enough to get in their way, she said.

"There have also been people who went into a hospital and killed some patients, not to mention countless more people and shops have been robbed."

As of yesterday, 75 people had been killed in mostly random, senseless violence.

"Over the last three days I have seen and heard unspeakable things, and I still can't understand what compels the population of one city to act so disgustingly."

Fortunately, she has not directly been in danger.

"I have had one close call, though. Yesterday morning (Wednesday) my family and I went to the supermarket. After getting what we needed and returning home we heard a lot of commotion on the streets.

"We then found out that the supermarket we had just been in had been robbed at gunpoint and would stay shut until the police could make it to our part of the city. That freaked me out."

Youths tear down a billboard to burn in a barricade in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil. Photo / AP
Youths tear down a billboard to burn in a barricade in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil. Photo / AP

Shahni chose to go to Brazil originally because she had always been drawn to its "energetic culture".

"Six months ago I had never left New Zealand. I didn't feel like my horizons had been broadened in any way so when I was deciding on what country I wanted to live in I was looking for different, exotic, some place where I could learn a new way of life.

"Brazil ticked all the boxes for me. I had always been drawn to the energetic culture and the way that Brazilian people connect best through dance. I've always loved that. Brazil was where I wanted to be. The country I wanted to remember as my second home."

Her mother, Gina Holmes, said she and Shahni's three younger siblings had been very worried about her.

"I want her to come home right now but on the other hand things will settle down, and she is in the middle of the experience of a lifetime," she said.

Shahni knows her parents just want her home.

"I can understand how scary this must be for them being so far away and just having to wait and watch for good news. I have tried my best to keep them as updated as possible."

- Gisborne Herald

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