Pain, outrage at burial of pregnant young woman killed by stray bullet during Brazil shootout

Friends and family of a young pregnant woman killed by a stray bullet during a police shootout with alleged criminals in Rio de Janeiro gathered to mourn today.

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More than 100 people attended 24-year-old interior designer Kathleen Romeu's wake and burial. Source: Associated Press

For them and other residents of the Brazilian city, the death of Kathleen Romeu was the all-too-familiar outcome of confrontations between police and traffickers.

Romeu was a Black woman from a working-class neighbourhood, or favela.

More than 100 people went to the 24-year-old interior designer's wake and burial, and they crowded into the narrow alleys of the cemetery.

Her grandmother was overcome with emotion and had to be carried out.

"The stray bullet always finds the Black and poor who live in the community, never the wealthy," said Kathlen's friend Rodrigo Diniz.

Later in the day hundreds joined a march through Rio's streets, chanting for justice and calling on the government to reign in the police forces.

Police have said Romeu was hit by a single shot in her torso during a shootout with criminals.

Officers brought her to a nearby hospital, but neither she nor her baby survived.

Police have opened three separate investigations into the shootout.

Stray bullets have struck at least six pregnant women in Rio since 2017, but Romeu was the first to die, according to Crossfire, a nongovernmental data project that tracks armed violence.

Romeu's neighbourhood, Lins de Vasconcelos, suffers frequent shootouts, even during school hours, Luis Pablo Figueiredo, a local community leader who works with kids, said at the cemetery.

A Supreme Court ruling last year prohibited police operations in Rio's favelas during the pandemic except in "absolutely exceptional" circumstances.

Despite the vague wording, it had a marked impact: The number of shootouts in Rio's metropolitan area dropped 38% from 2019, according to Crossfire data.

Still, the group registered more than 4,500 such events in 2020, with more than 100 people hit by stray bullets.

The number of shootouts has since crept back up to around pre-pandemic levels, as have the number of deaths Rio state's official data say resulted from police interventions.