BLUMENAU, Brazil (AP) — They sent their seven-year-old to day care Wednesday and plunged into the deepest nightmare of any parent’s life.
A man with a hatchet jumped over a wall and burst into the Cantinho do Bom Pastor children’s center in southern Brazil, killing Larissa Maia Toldo and three other children who were buried Thursday. Before her burial, Larissa’s parents held hands over her white-draped coffin, decorated with a few bouquets.
They and other relatives remembered the small joys of the children’s lives.
Five-year-old Bernardo Cunha Machado loved pets, and his family brought his toy turtle to his burial. He was talkative and had many little friends, relatives remembered. During his funeral, Bernardo’s distraught mother closed her eyes and rested her head and hands in prayer against the metal door of the vault behind which her son was interred.
Bernardo Pabst da Cunha, 5, loved Spiderman. His father came to his funeral wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the superhero.
Parents and other mourners at the São José cemetery barely spoke with the press as they grieved. All of Brazil was struggling for answers in the face of violence against the most innocent.
On Thursday, mourners had to either drive or climb a steep ladder to the burial site in a private room of the cemetery. A middle-aged woman wept as a casket went by in a black van.
“My nephew! My nephew! My nephew!” she cried.
Enzo Barbosa, 4, was buried at a different cemetery Thursday afternoon. He had been adopted, friends said.
Dozens of mourners also gathered at the day-care center in the area of German-descended families to pray, lay flowers for the victims and to grieve.
“I will never forget this father in tears screaming, ‘Wake up, Bernardo, it is time to go to school!” said Rose Silva, a day-care staffer at the funeral. “Why did he do that to children who were just playing at school?”
The assailant, who got inside by jumping over a wall, turned himself in at a police station, officials said. He did not appear to have any connection with the center, which offers nursery services, preschool education and after-school activities. Police said the 25-year-old will be charged with murder and attempted murder. Police believe the attack was unrelated to any other crimes.
The Santa Catarina state court said in a statement that the suspect had confessed. The case is sealed because minors are involved, the court said in a statement.
“My daughter thinks a thief came in and ran away without harming anyone,” Carlos Kroetz told The Associated Press while holding his 6-year-old’s Minnie Mouse bag. He and other parents collected backpacks left at the center during the mayhem.
“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,” he said.
At least four other children were wounded in the attack. Last week, a student in Sao Paulo fatally stabbed a teacher and wounded several others. School attacks have happened in the country with greater frequency in recent years and authorities have struggled to marshal responses to a problem that no one seems to understand.
From 2000 to 2022, there were 16 attacks or violent episodes in schools in Brazil, according to a report from researchers led by Daniel Cara, an education professor at the University of Sao Paulo.
Blumenau’s mayor said the municipality will install 125 security cameras in all schools and daycare centers. Education Minister Camilo Santana announced the creation of a group to address school violence. Justice Minister Flávio Dino said he was directing 150 million reais ($30 million) to shore up school safety. He said that money will pay for both heightened policing and the expansion of a team to monitor places on the internet where hate speech and violence can be glorified.
“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. In 2019, a bacterial infection claimed the life of Lula’s grandson, who was 7.
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, Cara told The Associated Press.
The attack took place on the center’s playground, according to the local affiliate of television network Globo. NSC, the affiliate, showed a photo of the suspect with a closely shaved head.
Rodrigo Raitez, police chief investigator in Blumenau, told the AP the suspect “is very likely a lone wolf” with no clear motive for the attack. Raitez said police plan to analyze data from the man’s cellphone.
“Most cases like these are stopped by police. But some are impossible to block,” Raitez said.
Troubled young people often seek shelter in online communities, said Cleo Garcia, a member of the GEPEM research group investigating bullying and violence in schools.
“In the United States, this is already considered an epidemic and we hope it doesn’t reach that point here,” Garcia said.
Simone Aparecida Camargo, a teacher at the day-care center attacked Wednesday, told the AP that she was skeptical of any 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.
“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.”
April sees the anniversaries of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in the U.S. and a shooting in a school in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area that killed 12 students in 2011, events that are glorified in some violence-prone communities, Cara said.
Martins reported from Sao Paulo. AP writer David Biller contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.