The bodies keep piling up in Brazil's Rio Grande do Norte, one of the most deadly places in the world


Violence in Natal, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte in northeast Brazil had already reached astronomical levels well before a prison rebellion at Alcaçuz State Penitentiary killed 26 inmates. The number of homicides in the state increased 232% between 2005 and 2015, according to the 2017 Atlas of Violence, compiled by the Institute of Applied Economic Research. In the first eight months of 2017, 1,558 people were murdered, up 25.5% over the same period last year. On the weekend of August 18-20 alone, 23 people were victims of homicide.

Police officers investigate the scene after three people were found dead in the Zumbi beach area of Natal.(Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
A woman who was shot to death after confrontation between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime lies on the sidewalk.(Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Left, Police officers investigate the scene after three people were found dead in the Zumbi beach area of Natal. Right, A woman who was shot to death after confrontation between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime lies on the sidewalk. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)

Marcos Brandão, the director of Rio Grande do Norte’s criminal investigation unit (Itep) since October of last year, says he has seen the number of violent deaths in the region steadily increase since his days as a crime scene investigator. There was a particular surge in 2014, when the PCC started making its presence known, and many of the people who end up in his morgue appear to have died because of gang-related violence.

Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a fight between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a fight between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
A body lies in the field after confrontation between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Top, Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a fight between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. Left, Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a fight between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. Right, A body lies in the field after confrontation between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)

He now sees an average of eight violent deaths per day — which also include deaths by suicide and other violent accidents — but that number can sometimes reach up to 14. Not many years ago, that average was just two.

Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a row between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Residents view the body of a man killed in battle between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime in Natal. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Prisoners of Parnamirim’s Provisional Chain are placed in a position of submission to guards. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
View from from pavilion two in Alcaçuz prison. (Victor Moriyama / For the Times)
Clockwise from top left: Police officers of technical expertise and lawyers examine body of man murdered in a row between the criminal factions PCC and Crime Syndicate. Residents view the body of a man killed in battle between rival criminal factions PCC and Sindicato do Crime in Natal. View from from pavilion two in Alcaçuz prison. Prisoners of Parnamirim’s Provisional Chain are placed in a position of submission to guards.(Victor Moriyama / For the Times)

Because of the increase in homicides in the state, the institution’s nine pathologists struggle to keep up with the number of bodies they receive on any given day. Brandão says he is in the process of hiring more doctors to work at Itep, which is a division of the civil police, and is currently renovating part of their workspace to make room for more refrigeration units. He still, however, has to send samples for DNA testing out of state, because Rio Grande do Norte has yet to implement its own lab.

A police vehicle shot up in the police station courtyard of the city of Nisia Flortesta.
A police vehicle shot up in the police station courtyard of the city of Nisia Flortesta. (Victor Moriyama / For The Times)



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