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BLUMENAU, Brazil (AP) — Parents in this small city in southern Brazil are struggling with how to explain to their children that a man slaughtered four of their friends, while Brazilians across the country are wondering what should be done to stem an apparently systemic rise of violence in schools.
Dozens of mourners gathered at the day care center in Blumenau as evening fell Wednesday to pray, to lay flowers for the victims — aged between 5 and 7 — and to cry. At least four other children were wounded in the attack that shook the nation and put pressure on the government to find solutions.
Carlos Kroetz and other parents arrived to collect their children’s backpacks left behind at the center during Wednesday morning’s mayhem.
“My daughter thinks a thief came in and ran away without harming anyone,” Kroetz told The Associated Press while holding his 6-year-old’s Minnie Mouse bag. “She knew kids who died. We still have to figure out a way to tell her. For now, she is afraid of going to the bathroom by herself, because she thinks the thief will be there.”
Franciele Chequeto said one of the girls killed was friends with her 7-year-old son, Gabriel.
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“He wasn’t understanding,” Chequeto said. “I sat down and told him that he no longer will be able to see some of his little friends.”
Within hours, the federal government was scrambling to formulate a strategy to combat the problem, as security analysts hoped the killing, in a city of 366,000 people in Santa Catarina state, might prove the watershed moment that yields productive — and overdue — actions nationwide.
Justice Minister Flávio Dino met with representatives from student associations, then told reporters in Brasilia that he was directing 150 million reais ($30 million) from the nation’s public security fund to shore up school safety. He said that money will pay for both heightened policing and an expansion of a Brasilia-based team for the monitoring of deep-web communities, places on the internet where hate speech and violence can be glorified.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Camilo Santana announced the creation of a group to address school violence. Santana will lead the group, which is scheduled to meet for the first time Thursday.
“There are no words to console the families. Anyone who has lost a relative knows that there are no words,” a teary-eyed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Wednesday at the start of a ministerial meeting. He requested his ministers observe a minute of silence.
From 2000 to 2022, there were 16 attacks or violent episodes in schools in Brazil, four of which in the second half of last year, according to a report from researchers led by Daniel Cara, an education professor at the University of Sao Paulo. The 12 researchers — including psychologists, social scientists, public school educators, journalists and activists — delivered their report to Lula’s incoming government in December.
Last week, a student in Sao Paulo fatally stabbed a teacher and wounded several others. Brazil has seen at least one past attack on a day care center, too. That attack also occurred in Santa Catarina state, in May 2021, when an assailant used a dagger to kill three children under 2 years old and two adults.
There is no single factor to explain the rise of such attacks, but a common denominator is what Cara calls “a crisis of perspective” regarding economic problems and the likelihood that each assailant endured situations of frustration and violence, including bullying and harassment.
Often, the killers are young people who engage in misogynistic or racist speech, employ neo-Nazi and fascist symbols and enter online communities where violence is lauded, he told The Associated Press.
Young people who are suffering find shelter in these online communities, according to Cleo Garcia, a member of the GEPEM research group investigating bullying and violence in schools, and which is linked to three prominent universities. Social media, particularly during last year’s polarizing presidential race between Lula and Jair Bolsonaro, generated a cacophony of threats against different groups.
Garcia added that the problem should be treated as one of social vulnerability, not only security.
“These events were considered rare, as were extreme climate events, but climate events already have their protocols to be monitored and addressed. This is what we need,” Garcia said. “In the United States, this is already considered an epidemic and we hope it doesn’t reach that point here.”
There are multiple causes driving the increase in school attacks in Brazil – from inequality to undereducation, lack of parenting and exposure to violence — and some are not national but rather regional or even local, according to Robert Muggah, co-founder of Igarapé Institute, a Rio de Janeiro-based think tank focused on security.
The danger is policymakers attempting to fight this issue with a focus only on guns and their availability, he added.
Lula’s predecessor, Bolsonaro, loosened gun control and actively promoted their use by citizens nationwide, claiming it was the best means to fight crime, even as public security experts said this was untrue. On the first day of Lula’s government, Jan. 1, he revoked Bolsonaro-issued decrees related to firearm access and has ordered all gun owners to register their weapons with the Federal Police by May 3.
Simone Aparecida Camargo, a teacher at the day care center attacked Wednesday, told the AP she believes unrestricted access to phones and the internet is to blame, and said she was skeptical of the push by authorities to boost the number and frequency of patrols around schools.
“How long can we have police near schools? A week? They need to look deeper,” she said.
Camargo locked dozens of children in a bathroom after she heard a colleague screaming about a man who had broken into the day care center, potentially averting an even greater tragedy.
“We didn’t think there was a massacre happening out there,” said Camargo, who has worked at the day care center for five years. “We see this abroad and never thought it could happen here.”
Martins reported from Sao Paulo. AP writer David Biller contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.
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Brazil Wrestles With Solutions After Deadly Day Care Attack
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