A British man and his beauty queen ex-wife have been murdered in front of their five-year-old daughter in a horrific robbery in Venezuela.
Thomas Berry, 39, from London and 2004’s Miss Venezuela, Monica Spear Mootz, 29, who is also an American citizen, were gunned down by thieves after their car ground to a halt on the Puerto-Cabello to Valencia highway.
Armed men came up the car as they waited for a repair truck, and the terrified couple locked themselves in their Toyota Corolla. But the robbers opened fire through the windows.
Happy: Mr Berry, 39, with Mrs Spear. He was an independent travel consultant based in Caracas
The bodies of Mr Berry and Ms Spear were found in the car with their daughter, who was injured in the leg.
It is not yet known if the child, who is now under the protection of the authorities and is believed to be called Maya, was shot by assailants.
Ms Spear was a famous TV actress following her pageant victory and appeared in a number of telenovelas (South American soap operas), with her roll in ‘Forbidden Passions’ the most notable.
She was well-known throughout the Spanish-speaking world as a result.
She was a graduate of the University of Central Florida, had American citizenship and her parents live in Orlando, Florida.
Mr Berry, who describes himself as an independent travel consultant in an online profile, lives in the capital Caracas, reports El Universal. He moved to Florida after he was shot 15 years ago, but couldn’t resist the lure of the country he loved.
It is understood they separated but were still close friends and holidayed together for the sake of their daughter.
His parents are understood to be in Puerto Cabello having identified the bodies.
Luis Dominguez, who ran an adventure tour company with Berry told NBC he spoke to him on Sunday. ‘They were having the greatest time’, he said. ‘He said, I’ll see you soon’.
A friend of the family, Carlos Drakkar, 38, a Colombian graphic designer who lives in Caracas, said: ‘This is a very difficult moment for all of us to deal with. We are doing all we can to help out friends in this difficult moment. These things happen all too often in this country. Something has to change.’
Venezuela’s public prosecutor has appointed two separate investigators to the case, while the CICPC, Venezuela’s SWAT police force unit, has been deployed to nearby slums for answers.
Commissioner Daniel Alvarez , head of the CICPC’s homicide division, promised ‘fast results in this awful case.’
The Foreign Office say it is aware of the reports and are looking into it with the assistance of its offices in Venezuela.
A spokesman said: ‘We are aware of reports of the death of a British national on 6 January in Venezuela.
‘We stand ready to provide consular assistance to the family.’
Venezuela is one the most violent places in Latin America and armed robberies, carjackings and kidnappings are rife.
The annual murder rate in Caracas alone is an average of 80 murders per 100,000 people, the third highest in the world.
Majority of murders occur in the slums where police presence is minimal. Eastern Caracas is home to South America’s largest slum, named Petare with more than two million residents, where the police to public ratio is 1 officer to every 3,000 people.
There were an estimated 24,000 murders in 2013, one of the world’s highest homicide rates. It has tripled in the previous decade.
Gun ownership is also high, with an estimated 15m unlicensed weapons in circulation.