WADSWORTH GRADUATE JOAO HERBERT MURDERED IN SLUM WHERE HE TAUGHT
Marilyn Miller and Gina Mace
Akron Beacon Journal
Knight Ridder correspondent Kevin Hall contributed to this report.
Joao Herbert, the adopted son of a Wadsworth couple who was brought to the United States from a South American orphanage as a child, then deported at 22 on a drug charge, was found shot to death Tuesday in his native Brazil.
He was 26.
Herbert's body was discovered in the slums of Campinas, 60 miles north of Sao Paulo, where he lived in poverty as an English teacher. He had been shot six times, according to sources close to the case.
Herbert's mother, Nancy Saunders, now of Marshallville, said she was told her son was shot by police.
Friends, however, say they don't know what happened or why, and may never know because such killings in that region are frequent.
Late Wednesday, the coroner's office in Campinas confirmed that Herbert was killed Tuesday and buried Wednesday.
A Brazilian Embassy spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, was skeptical of reports that Herbert was shot by police.
But a report released yesterday by Amnesty International -- reprinted in the online version of Sao Paulo's newspaper -- claims that investigations were rare in the thousands of killings by Brazilian police officers last year. The deaths were usually registered as "resistance followed by death."
Herbert returned to Brazil after he was deported in November 2000 following conviction for selling marijuana to an undercover Wadsworth police officer two months after he graduated from Wadsworth High School in 1997.
The conviction resulted in a sentence of probation by a Medina County court, but triggered the deportation.
Although Nancy Saunders and Jim Herbert adopted the youngster from a Brazilian orphanage as an 8-year-old, American citizenship was not automatic -- a law that has since changed.
He was ordered deported under a 1996 amendment to the immigration laws that made all but the most minor crimes deportable.
Saunders and Jim Herbert spent two years trying to prevent their son's deportation -- writing letters, calling congressmen and senators and hiring lawyers. Ultimately a unanimous recommendation for clemency by the Ohio Parole Board was denied by Gov. Bob Taft.
The Brazilian Embassy unsuccessfully attempted to block Herbert's exile by refusing to issue travel papers, asserting that the adoption made Herbert an American citizen.
Herbert's story made all of the Brazilian news outlets, and when he arrived in Brazil, he was embraced by the country that greeted him like a rock star. Throngs of reporters and photographers crowded him, seeking a quote. Fan mail was waiting for him at Arsenal da Esperanca -- the transitional living center where the embassy had arranged for him to stay. A representative from Goodyear's Brazil office met him at the airport with offers of a job and a house.
But Herbert chose instead to move to Campinas with Michael Miller, a missionary who grew up in Stow and graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in 1977. Herbert met Miller the first week he moved to Brazil through a mutual friend.
Miller was in Michigan on Tuesday when he learned of Herbert's death and flew back to Brazil for Wednesday's funeral.
"I was shocked when I first heard it," he said. "Everything is still a mystery to me. He was shot six times, which to me means there was some type of vengeance.
"I'm sure someone saw something, but people don't talk about things like that to anybody," he said. "Things are always so hush-hush."
Herbert was working as an English teacher, and recently opened a school in an impoverished area of Campinas where he lived with his girlfriend and their 6-month-old daughter, Nayrah, his mother said.
The couple had recently separated.
Paula DeSouza, the 30-year-old girlfriend, said she hadn't seen Herbert since May 18.
She described him as a happy person who was always trying to help others.
"His error was trusting people," she said. "It's different here in Brazil."
Saunders said it may have been opening the school that brought him to the attention of his killers.
"They thought he had money," Saunders said.
"A few days ago, police stopped Herbert's vehicle and asked him for identification," she said. "He does not have a Brazilian identification, but showed an American ID."
According to Saunders, Herbert said they asked him if he had drugs and searched his car and found a gun under the seat.
In the past two years, Herbert was stabbed once and in a separate incident was mugged in a carjacking.
According to his mother, Herbert told her that police demanded "$3,000 within 24 hours or they would arrest him and send him to jail for 15 years."
The embassy spokeswoman said Herbert's story was strange since it is illegal to own a gun in Brazil -- even for protection.
Saunders said her son made a panicked call to his father, who sent him $1,500.
On Tuesday, Herbert was on his way home when he was confronted by police, Saunders said. She said he was shot in the hands, feet, head, shoulder and back.
He ran about a block before he fell and died, both she and Miller said.
According to Miller, the funeral service was simple with about 60 friends and students.
"He was a good kid," Miller said. "His whole life was an uphill battle. He was dealt a bad hand in life. It wasn't fair that it ended tragically."
Miller recalled the publicity surrounding Herbert when the two met.
"When he first came here he was considered somebody, people looked at him as a hero," Miller said. "But he died as a nobody."