BLUMENAU, Brazil (AP) — An axe-wielding man stormed a Brazilian day care center Wednesday, killing four children, authorities said, in an attack that rocked the country and put pressure on the government to stem the rising tide of violence.
At least four other children were injured in the attack in Blumenau, a city of 366,000 in southern Brazil near the Atlantic coast.
The assailant, who entered by jumping over a wall, turned himself in at a police station, authorities said. He did not appear to have any ties to the center, which offers childcare, preschool education and after-school activities. The dead were between the ages of 5 and 7, authorities said.
Authorities were looking for a motive, the police detective who led the investigation, Ronnie Esteves, told television reporters.
Hours after the attack, the justice and education ministers pledged to invest in new violence prevention efforts.
Valeria Aparecida Camilo, mother of a 5-year-old girl from the center, said she was working when a colleague saw the news. She called her husband, Gustavo, who ran to the school and later learned that her daughter had survived.
“The moment I saw her, it was a relief,” Gustavo Camilo told The Associated Press outside the center. “But we are sorry for everything that has happened, with the other children who ended up dying.”
“They are not cruel, they are children,” added Valeria. “They are 5 years old. What did a 5-year-old boy do to this person?”
Franciele Chequeto said one of the girls killed was a friend of her 7-year-old son Gabriel.
“He wasn’t understanding,” Checketo said. “I sat down and told him that he won’t be able to see some of his little friends anymore.”
The head of the state’s civil police, Ulisses Gabriel, confirmed that the attacker was a 25-year-old man from the neighboring state of Paraná. He will be charged with murder and attempted murder. Police believe the attack was an isolated act and not related to any other crime, Gabriel said.
The images spread on the networks showed the parents crying outside the private nursery called Cantinho do Bom Pastor.
The attack took place in the center’s playground, according to the local affiliate of the Globo television network. NSC, the affiliate, displayed a photo of the suspect with a shaved head. Police have yet to confirm his identity.
The mayor of Blumenau, Mário Hildebrandt, suspended classes and said he will declare mourning for 30 days. Authorities said any reports of other attacks or threats against schools in the region were false.
School attacks have occurred in Brazil with more frenquency in recent years. Last week, a student in Sao Paulo fatally stabbed a teacher and injured several more in Sao Paulo.
Brazil has seen at least one previous attack on a day care center. That attack also occurred in the state of Santa Catarina, in May 2021, when an assailant used a dagger to kill three children under the age of 2 and two adults.
From 2000 to 2022, there were 16 attacks or violent episodes in schools, four of them in the second half of last year, according to a report by researchers led by Daniel Cara, a professor of education at the University of Sao Paulo. The 12 researchers—made up of psychologists, social scientists, public school educators, journalists, and activists—prepared the report for the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Brazil’s Justice Minister Flávio Dino told reporters in Brasilia that he would allocate 150 million reais ($30 million) from the nation’s public security fund to beef up school security. That money will pay for both increased policing and the expansion of a Brasilia-based team to monitor deep web communities, he said. Early Wednesday morning, Dino met with representatives of student associations.
For his part, the Minister of Education, 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 on Thursday.
There is no single factor that explains the rise of these types of attacks, but a common denominator is what Cara calls “a crisis of perspective” regarding economic problems and the probability that each attacker suffered situations of frustration and violence, including bullying and harassment.
“Given the lack of perspective and the way they were victimized,” they are recruited by online communities and are looking for a way to get back at society, Cara told the AP by phone.
“They tend to be young people who have a masculinist, misogynist, racist discourse, who worship neo-Nazi and fascist symbols, and who navigate communities where violence is glorified,” added Cara.
Experts say April is an especially sensitive month for school attacks, as it marks the anniversaries of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in the US and a 2011 school shooting in the greater Rio de Janeiro area. These events are glorified as triggers for further attacks, Cara said.
“There are no words to comfort the families. Anyone who has lost a family member knows there are no words,” President Lula said, teary-eyed, at the start of a ministerial meeting on Wednesday. He asked his ministers to observe a minute of silence.
In 2019, a bacterial infection claimed the life of Lula’s 7-year-old grandson, the same age as one of Blumenau’s victims.
Martins reported from Sao Paulo. Associated Press writer David Biller in Rio de Janeiro also contributed to this report.