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Single bullet killed former Miss Venezuela

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A single bullet killed a former Miss Venezuela in a double murder that also claimed her British partner and highlighted the country's violent crime epidemic, her manager said Wednesday.

The slaughter of Monica Spear, a soap opera star who lived and worked in the United States, on Monday during a vacation to her home country caused shock and revulsion and has led to urgent meetings in government.

Spear, 29, and Thomas Henry Berry, 39, were gunned down in front of their five-year-old daughter, who was wounded. Five suspects have been detained.

President Nicolas Maduro, who has vowed to deal with Spear's killers with an "iron hand," held a meeting of mayors and governors to draw an emergency anti-crime plan after the killings.

The deaths have shone a light on the country's soaring crime, which has kept many Venezuelans from venturing out at night and prompted others to buy armored cars or boost security in their homes.

Spear and Berry, who ran an adventure travel company in Venezuela, married in 2008 and later split up but it was unclear whether they legally separated.

They were shot dead in the northwestern countryside when they locked themselves inside their broken-down car after five armed men had attacked them in a robbery attempt in the state of Carabobo, authorities said.

"She was hit by a single shot in the right arm that went through her body" Spear's manager, Katty Pulido, told CNN Espanol, noting that Berry had suffered three bullet wounds.

The couple's daughter, Maya, was shot in the right leg and taken to a private hospital in Caracas, where she is in stable condition and under the care of her grandparents, Pulido said.

Runaway crime

Venezuela has one of the world's highest murder rates, with 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to the country's non-profit Observatory of Violence.

The interior ministry, however, has a lower murder rate of 39 homicides per 100,000.

Maduro hosted a security meeting with state and municipal officials at the Miraflores presidential palace.

The meeting even brought the socialist leader face-to-face with his opposition rival, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, who never conceded defeat following Maduro's contested election victory last year.

At a public square, meanwhile, around 200 people held a demonstration organized by artists to denounce the country's spiraling crime problem after it claimed one of their own.

"I no longer go out," said renowned actress Elba Escobar. "When I have evening activities I prefer to go with two or three friends in one car."

As protesters released white balloons, Maria Arteaga, 41, said she stopped visiting her parents because they live in a dangerous neighborhood.

"I'm afraid to go to the bank, restaurants or leave my house," she said.

Another group of artists wrote a letter that they will deliver to the National Assembly, accusing the government of "turning a blind eye" to crime.

Love for country

Friends of Spear said the former beauty queen decided to vacation in Venezuela because she deeply loved her country. Before her death, she had posted images of her countryside holiday on social media.

Spear, a quarter-finalist in the 2005 Miss Universe contest, starred in he Miami-based Telemundo series "Pasion Prohibida" ("Forbidden Passion") and "Flor Salvaje" ("Savage Flower").

The family was driving on a highway when their car hit a blunt object that had been placed on the road, forcing them to pull over, said forensic police director Jose Gregorio Sierralta.

Spear waved down a tow truck, which stopped to help on the road between Puerto Cabello and Valencia in the state of Carabobo, Sierralta said.

But as the two truck workers operated the crane, five armed men emerged on the road.

The truck's operators fled to a police station about 1.5 kilometers (one mile) away while the mother and father locked themselves and their child in their car in a desperate attempt to shield themselves from the killers.

"The criminals fired multiple shots at the vehicle" before fleeing without stealing anything, Sierralta said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140108/single-bullet-killed-former-miss-venezuela