CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A former Miss Venezuela and University of Central Florida graduate was shot and killed along with her ex-husband after they resisted robbers by locking the doors of their broken-down car, police said Tuesday. The couple's 5-year-old daughter was wounded in the incident.
The slaying of Monica Spear, 29, a popular soap opera actress, and Thomas Berry, a 39-year-old Irishman, was the latest high-profile crime in a country where people are regularly killed in armed robberies and where rampant kidnapping has ensnared even foreign ambassadors and professional baseball players.
Spear and Berry were slain Monday late night near Puerto Cabello, the country's main port, while headed to Caracas after their car hit "a sharp object that had been placed on the highway," the director of the country's investigative police, Jose Gregorio Sierralta, told reporters.
He said the attack occurred after the car had been lifted onto a tow truck and, seeing the assailants coming, the family locked themselves in their car.
Sierralta said the couple's daughter was treated for a light leg wound and was with relatives in Caracas. He said police in Puerto Cabello had arrested five suspects, some under age 18.
Local media reports said the pair had a good relationship despite being divorced and identified Berry as the owner of a travel agency.
Venezuela has one of the world's highest murder rates and violent crime is so rampant that Venezuelans tend to stay home after dark. Spear's death triggered a wave of anger on social media directed at the populist government's poor record on crime.
President Nicolas Maduro commented on her death in remarks carried live by state TV, lamenting "the loss of a very spiritual young woman" actively involved in various charities.
According to the nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, the oil-rich South American country's murder rate was 79 per 100,000 inhabitants last year. Government statistics put the rate lower.
Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and had acted in numerous soap operas for the U.S.-based Telemundo network, most recently "Pasion Prohibida."
She split her time between Venezuela and the United States and was on vacation when slain.
Spear had more than 355,000 followers on Twitter and her feed over the last week included brief videos of vacation scenes sent on the popular Instagram service.
In one video, posted two days ago and described as being taken on the plains of Apure state, Spear looks at the camera while riding a horse, turns away and then looks back, blowing a kiss.
AP writer Frank Bajak contributed from Lima, Peru.