Federal police in Brazil say they have identified the remains of British journalist Dom Phillips, who disappeared alongside Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in a remote area of the country’s Amazon rainforest in early June.
Brazilian authorities earlier this week discovered human remains after a suspect confessed to killing Phillips and Pereira, and took investigators to where the bodies were buried.
Phillips was identified through forensic analysis of the unearthed remains, Brazil’s federal police agency said in a statement on Friday. The agency said it was still working on “complete identification” of the remains, which may include those of Pereira.
Work was under way to determine the cause of death, the police also said.
“The remains of Dom Phillips were part of the material collected at the place indicated by Amarildo da Costa Oliveira,” they said, referring to the main suspect in the case.
Earlier in the day, federal police said their investigation into the two men’s killings so far has suggested that those responsible acted without the involvement of a criminal organisation.
They said they were still searching with the help of the local Indigenous group UNIVAJA for the boat Phillips and Pereira were travelling in when they were last seen alive on June 5 in the Javari Valley area, which borders Peru and Colombia.
They added that their preliminary investigation suggested the crime involved more individuals beyond the suspect who confessed to the murders and that additional people could be arrested.
“The investigations also point out that the killers acted alone, with no heads or criminal organisation behind the crime,” police said.
But UNIVAJA challenged such investigations, saying it had informed the federal police numerous times since the second half of 2021 that there was an organised crime group operating in the Javari Valley.
“The cruelty of the crime makes clear that Pereira and Phillips crossed paths with a powerful criminal organisation that tried at all costs to cover its tracks during the investigation,” the Indigenous group, which had been leading search efforts for the pair, said in a statement.
Phillips was on a reporting trip in the Javari Valley with Pereira, considered to be one of Brazil’s most knowledgeable experts on isolated and uncontacted tribes, when the two men disappeared.
The area is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted Indigenous people, threatened by illegal miners, loggers, hunters and, increasingly, coca-growing groups that produce the raw material for cocaine.
The discovery of the remains on Wednesday ended a grim 10-day search for Phillips and Pereira. Their disappearance had sparked widespread global concern and calls for Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to do more to help search groups find them.
Bolsonaro was slammed for what many called a slow and lacklustre response, and for remarks he made saying Phillips and Pereira “were on an adventure that is not recommended”.
He also suggested that Phillips, a freelance journalist who regularly contributed to The Guardian, had made enemies by writing about environmental issues. Bolsonaro said in a tweet on Thursday, “Our condolences to family members and may God comfort everyone’s heart.”
Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police had said on Thursday that if the remains were confirmed as the missing men, they “will be returned to the families of the two”. A federal police plane flew the remains to the capital, Brasilia, on Thursday evening.
Dom Phillips’ many friends will have different takes on the meaning of his life and death. This is mine: Let’s carry on his work. https://t.co/IEWjweNzK4
— jonathanwatts (@jonathanwatts) June 16, 2022
Two federal police officials in Brasilia told The Associated Press on Thursday that a total of five people were being investigated, including the fisherman who confessed and his brother, who was arrested on Tuesday as a suspect.
At a news conference Wednesday night in the Amazon city of Manaus, federal police investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said the prime suspect in the case, 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed “Pelado”, told officers he used a firearm to kill the men.
Relatives, friends and colleagues have paid tribute to the pair and called for justice and accountability.
“Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love,” Phillips’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said in a statement on Thursday. “Today, we also begin our quest for justice.”
The United States also called for “accountability and justice” for the two men.
“Our condolences to the families of [Dom Philips] and Bruno Pereira, murdered for supporting conservation of the rainforest and native peoples there,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price wrote on Twitter on Friday. “We call for accountability and justice—we must collectively strengthen efforts to protect environmental defenders and journalists.”