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Brazil shooting said to be first school massacre in nation's history

'What happened has no precedent,' says Military Police Colonel Djalma Beltrame, as he guarded the school in Brazil where 11 students were gunned down today.

By Taylor BarnesCorrespondent / April 7, 2011

Police guard the perimeter of a school after a shooting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday, April 7. Brazilian authorities say that a gunman opened fire in the elementary school where 11 students were gunned down.

Victor R. Caivano/AP

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Brazil school shooting this morning in the gritty Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Realengo left at least 11 students dead and a nation in shock over its first-ever school massacre.

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"What happened has no precedent," Military Police Colonel Djalma Beltrami told the Monitor today as he guarded the gates to the four-story public school on the city's less-policed periphery. He says police in the area responded in a matter of "seconds" upon being warned.

But even that was not quick enough to prevent 23-year-old Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, himself a former student at the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School, from opening fire on students with two .38-caliber revolvers before killing himself. Ten girls and one boy were killed, and at least 17 more students were reported injured.

The policeman who took Mr. Oliveira down as he tried to reach the school's third floor told reporters he shot him in the leg, immobilizing him. Police say the shooter had no prior criminal record.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who had been preparing to leave for China this weekend on a state visit, wept when commenting on the incident during a speech to business leaders. "This type of crime is not characteristic of [our] country," she said.

Indeed, witnesses on the scene said they had never thought Brazil was vulnerable to such an incident reminiscent of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the 1999 Columbine high school shooting.

"This is not normal by what I know. This is the first time this has happened in Brazil," says João Luiz, pastor of a Presbyterian church facing the school. He accompanied the parents of a young girl from the church killed to identify her body, and added that he was only used to hearing about such incidents in the US and abroad.

Julia Giladete had a daughter and two nephews in classes this morning at the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School. She lives across the street from the school, which was cordoned off with yellow police tape this afternoon as police, nurses, and reporters crowded the dusty block in the working class neighborhood an hour outside downtown Rio.

Ms. Giladete had just left the school, where she volunteers as a reading assistant, and gone home to change clothes when she heard the gunshots. This was immediately followed with the sounds of children screaming, she says.

But she adds that such incidents are unheard of in Brazil, and even in rougher neighborhoods such as this one. "Thanks to god," she says, "it's difficult for this to happen."

"It is an unprecedented tragedy in Brazil," Brazilian Education Minister Fernando Haddad told reporters today, noting that the country had never before experienced a massacre of children at a school.

(Editors note: Due to an editing error, the original article misspelled the name of the school and Education Minister Fernando Haddad.)

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