Mourners gathered Thursday at a Caracas cemetery chapel for the wake of former Miss Venezuela and soap-opera star Monica Spear and her ex-husband, who were gunned down in a highway ambush in front of their 5-year-old daughter.
Venezuelan authorities say seven people, including two teenagers, are being questioned about the attack, which has sparked outrage over rampant crime and a celebrity-led march to demand better security.
Police blamed the Monday night shooting on a highway near Puerto Cabello on a botched robbery attempt. President Nicolas Maduro, under pressure to curb random violence, suggested the murder of Spear and Thomas Henry Berry was a targeted hit.
“That assassination seems more like a contract killing,” he said, providing no evidence to back up his theory. “We have identified those involved in this assassination and were are going to look for them.”
Spear’s family has said they tried to convince the telenovela star to leave Venezuela after she was robbed six times. Berry’s friends said he did move to Florida after being shot 15 years ago but was lured back by the country’s natural beauty.
Berry, 39, who was born in England but moved to Venezuela as a child, ran an adventure tour company. Though he and Spear divorced two years ago, they remained close and spent holidays and vacations together for the sake of their daughter, Maya.
The little girl was wounded in the leg during the shooting but survived.
Police said the family’s Toyota Corolla ran over a spike placed on the highway and got two flats. After the tow truck arrived, so did the gunmen, and they opened fire on the vehicle.
Investigators told reporters the tow truck driver and his assistant were questioned. One testified, according to local news reports, that he ran to seek help for over a mile. The other reportedly said that he hid in the woods fearing for his life.
Spear won the 2004 Miss Venezuela title and represented her homeland in the Miss Universe pageant before launching an acting career. She appeared in a half-dozen Spanish language soap operas, most recently “Pasion Prohibida” and “Flor Salvaje” on Telemundo.
“She was a person with dreams, and a person who worked really hard for what she wanted,” her brother, Ricardo Spear Mootz said.