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Bodies found tied to tree in search for journalist, Indigenous expert

June 13, 2022 Updated Mon., June 13, 2022 at 11:54 a.m.

By Terrence McCoy The Washington Post

RIO DE JANEIRO - The family of a missing journalist says they have been told by Brazilian authorities that two bodies have been found tied to a tree in the Amazon rainforest. The report came more than a week after the journalist and a Brazilian government official went missing.

Police said they have not confirmed that the “biological materials” are the remains of British journalist Dom Phillips, a Brazil-based contributor to the Guardian and onetime contract writer for The Washington Post, or Bruno Pereira, a longtime official at Brazil’s Indigenous rights organization.

Search parties on Sunday recovered items that belonged to the two men, including Pereira’s health insurance card, their boots and Phillips’s backpack, which was filled with clothing. Local media reported that the items were submerged in water and tied to the roots of a tree.

“The biological material is being analyzed, along with the personal belongings of the disappeared men,” the federal police said in a statement Monday. “As soon as a finding occurs, the family and media will be immediately informed.”

Paul Sherwood, Phillips’s brother-in-law, told The Washington Post that he visited the Brazilian Embassy in London last week to discuss the disappearances. He said an official he met there, Roberto Doring, contacted him Monday morning and asked to speak. Doring told him two bodies had been found tied to a tree in the forest.

“He told me it was likely to be Dom and Bruno,” Sherwood said. “But he wasn’t telling me that as an official statement, and would come back later with the results. No one has rung me since.”

Neither the Brazilian Embassy in London nor the Brazilian Foreign Ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

Phillips, who was working on a book on conservation in the Amazon, accompanied Pereira this month into the Javari Valley, one of the most remote reaches of the rainforest. The vast territory, considered the world’s largest dwelling area of uncontacted Indigenous peoples, has been under increasing pressure from criminal invaders intent on stripping it of its resources.

Phillips and Pereira were visiting Indigenous surveillance teams trying to repel and report on the criminal land invaders. Members of the Indigenous surveillance team said they were threatened during the trip.

The men were supposed to come out of the territory and arrive at the nearby city of Atalaia do Norte at 8 a.m. on June 5. They never appeared.

Police have arrested one man, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, known as “Pelado,” a local fisherman who has been accused of threatening Pereira.

“Dom was a courageous guy,” Sherwood said. “He was doing something that he thought was really important. He must have known he was taking risks, and we hope not only that justice be delivered, but the book he was writing get published and the story get told.”

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