A Venezuelan actress and her ex-husband were shot to death and their 5-year-old daughter was wounded when armed robbers ambushed their broken-down car during an idyllic vacation, police said Tuesday.
Monica Spear's family said they had tried and failed to convince the former beauty queen, who starred in several telenovelas, to leave crime-ridden Venezuela and join them in the United States after she was robbed six times.
"She loved her country too much," said her brother, Ricardo Spear Mootz, who lives in Florida. "It was her home."
Spear, 29, was on a road trip with ex-husband Henry Thomas Berry, 39, and daughter Maya, when they got into a small accident on the Valencia-Puerto Cabello highway.
While they were waiting for a tow truck for their stranded gray Toyota Corolla, gunmen approached the car, police said. The couple locked themselves inside, but the bandits opened fire.
"To think there are people who can shoot a mother and father in front of their daughter is very sad and unbelievable."
No arrests have been made, but the double slaying focused fresh attention on crime in Venezuela, where 70 people have been murdered in the first week of the year.
Diego Sanchez, who has known the victims for about six years, said the shooting made him think about leaving Venezuela.
"To think there are people who can shoot a mother and father in front of their daughter is very sad and unbelievable," he said. "And it’s shocking when it happens to someone you know."
Family and friends said that although the couple had split up a couple of years ago they remained close and spent vacations and holidays together for their daughter's sake.
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"They were a great couple," said Luis Dominguez, who ran an adventure tour company with Berry and spoke to him Sunday while he was on the road.
"They were having the greatest time. He said, 'I'll see you soon.'"
Born in England, Berry moved to Venezuela with his family when he was 7 years old and grew up there. After he was shot about 15 years ago, he moved to Florida, but was lured back to Venezuela by its natural beauty, Dominguez said.
After he returned in 2006, he met Spear — a graduate of the University of Central Florida and winner of the 2004 Miss Venezuela pageant — and "it was love at first sight," Dominguez said.
"She was a really happy, outgoing person," Dominguez said of the actress, whose full name is Monica Spear Mootz. "She didn't need luxury. They only needed each other. She wasn't flashy. She was a beautiful person to be around."
After winning the title of Miss Venezuela, the actress appeared in a half-dozen Spanish language soap operas, most recently "Pasion Prohibida" and "Flor Salvaje" on Telemundo.
Her brother said she was more interested in using her fame to help people than posing on the red carpet. She tried to raise awareness for domestic violence and autism and she took a youth with Asperger's syndrome to a Telemundo gala event.
"She was a person with dreams, and a person who worked really hard for what she wanted," he said. He noted that the organizer of the national beauty pageant — known for its cutthroat competition — had called her "an angel."
He said that in the last days of her life, Spear has soaked up Venezuela's natural delights, visiting Merida with its stunning scenery, spending time at the beach and riding horses on the plains.
"She was very humble," he said.
Dominguez said Berry was a nature lover with an adventurous streak and didn't worry that harm might befall him, even though he had already been shot once before.
"I think he was kind of naïve because he loved what he did and he loved showing the good side of Venezuela," he said.
The couple's daughter, who was wounded in the leg during the shooting, was in good condition, surrounded by family and friends.
Spears' former co-star Jencarlos Canela promised on Twitter to watch over her daughter.
Estoy sin palabras. Te voy a extrañar amiga @MonicaSpear Y mi Maya bella hermosa te amo. No estas sola!!