RIO DE JANEIRO – At least seven people died on Sunday in a shootout with police in Rio de Janeiro’s Cidade de Deus favela, or shantytown, during an operation launched by authorities following the crash of a police helicopter in the area earlier in the weekend.
The seven bodies were placed side by side and covered with sheets, an EFE reporter on the scene confirmed.
Relatives, friends and neighbors of the victims put together a makeshift morgue for the bodies and looked on with a mixture of sadness and confusion.
The bodies were found in a wooded area inside the shantytown, residents said.
Some residents told EFE that the seven people died in a shootout with police, but relatives said officers murdered the victims.
The father of one of the victims said residents found the bodies on the ground, with the hands near the heads, indicating that they were “executed.”
Police moved into Cidade de Deus (City of God), a shantytown made famous by a 2002 movie of the same name that tells the story of Rio’s drug dealers and their turf wars, in force in the early morning hours, securing all the access roads.
Drug traffickers engaged police in shootouts starting on Saturday, when a police helicopter providing support for law enforcement agents crashed near the shantytown, killing the four officers aboard.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the helicopter to crash near Cidade de Deus, located in the western section of Rio de Janeiro, and have not ruled out the possibility that criminals shot down the aircraft.
Videos posted by the daily Extra showed the helicopter flying at a low altitude and criminals celebrating the supposed shootdown.
Investigators, however, are also examining the possibility that the crash was caused by mechanical failure.
The shootout between police and drug traffickers led to the closing Saturday of one of Rio de Janeiro’s main highways, an incident that forced drivers to abandon their vehicles and take cover behind road barriers.
The helicopter crash and shootout occurred just over six kilometers (3.7 miles) from Olympic Park, where most Summer Olympics events took place in August.
Cidade de Deus, a complex of several poor neighborhoods, is home to about 47,000 people.