Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers. He had disappeared several days earlier while working on assignment in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in a favela, an impoverished community that sits on the outskirts of the city.
On June 2, the 50-year-old Lopes traveled to the favela of Vila Cruzeiro. His driver met him there at around 8 p.m., but the journalist said he needed more time to finish his work. They agreed to meet again at 10 p.m., but Lopes never arrived. This was Lopes’ fourth visit to Vila Cruzeiro, and he was carrying a hidden camera.
According to TV Globo, Lopes was working on a report about parties hosted by drug traffickers in Vila Cruzeiro that allegedly involved drugs and the sexual exploitation of minors. Favela residents had told Lopes that they were powerless against drug traffickers and had complained about the lack of police action.
On June 3, TV Globo reported Lopes’ disappearance to the police.
According to the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, two suspects, both members of a gang headed by local drug trafficker Elias Pereira da Silva, also known as “Crazy Elias,” were arrested on the morning of June 9. Both men claimed that they heard how Lopes was murdered but denied any involvement in his killing.
According to the suspects’ depositions, details of which the police released and the Brazilian press published, drug traffickers close to Pereira da Silva kidnapped Lopes in Vila Cruzeiro at around midnight on June 2. After Lopes told them he was a TV Globo reporter, the traffickers called Pereira da Silva, who was in a nearby favela.
They tied Lopes’ hands, forced him into a car, and took him to the favela where Pereira da Silva was staying. There, they beat the reporter and shot him in the feet to keep him from escaping. They then held a mock trial and sentenced Lopes to death.
Pereira da Silva killed Lopes with a sword, and his body was burned and put in a hidden burial ground, said the suspects.
On June 12, police found badly decomposed human remains, along with Lopes’ camera and watch in Favela da Grota. After DNA tests, police confirmed on July 5 that the remains belonged to Lopes. Two days later, they were officially buried.
Lopes had received Brazil’s most important journalism award in December 2001 for a TV Globo report on drug trafficking. The report, titled “Drug Fair,” and broadcast in August 2001, was filmed with a hidden camera and showed how traffickers sold drugs in a makeshift open drug market in a favela outside Rio de Janeiro. Reporter Cristina Guimarães, who co-produced the piece with Lopes and two other colleagues, received death threats in September 2001 and had to leave Rio de Janeiro State, according to the daily O Estado de S. Paulo. The daily Jornal do Brasil reported that Lopes had also received threats for the report.
On September 19, after a two-day search, police apprehended drug lord Pereira da Silva. In early August, several members of his gang who had also been charged with murdering the journalist were either arrested or killed in a shoot-out with the police.
At year’s end, Pereira da Silva and his accomplices remained in jail. No date had been set for trial.