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Beauty queen's killers nabbed, Venezuela says

By Mariano Castillo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 3:35 AM EST, Fri January 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Monica Spear's daughter still has a bullet lodged in her leg, family says
  • A top investigator says robbery was the motive behind the double homicide
  • 7 suspects have been arrested; 4 remain on the loose, he says
  • Venezuela was shocked by the killing of Spear, a beauty queen and soap opera star

(CNN) -- Beauty queen Monica Spear posted scenic photos and videos of the Venezuelan countryside online in the days before her death.

Now, days after attackers gunned down the soap opera star and her ex-husband, investigators say Spear's camera was a key link that helped them track down her killers.

Police found the camera inside the home of one of seven suspects authorities have arrested in connection with the slayings, the head of Venezuela's national crime investigation agency said Thursday. Four suspects are still on the loose, he said.

No one has been charged, but officials say there is evidence linking the group of suspected gang members to the double homicide.

The high-profile case has galvanized Venezuelans to turn up the pressure on their government to act on the country's high crime rates and prompted pledges from officials to end the violence.

Beauty queen's family mourns her death

The victims' 5-year-old daughter, Maya, witnessed the roadside shooting and suffered a gunshot wound herself but survived.

"It's terrible that this happened, and society has to react," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said at a security meeting he convened with mayors and governors on Wednesday. "It is not time to faint, to throw in the towel, to let our guard down. To the contrary, it's time to react."

For many Venezuelans, what happened to Spear is nothing new. Violence on Venezuelan roads and highways, they say, is all too common. A nonprofit that tracks homicides in the South American country says there were almost 25,000 violent deaths last year in the country of about 30 million people.

"I ask Venezuelans to wake up because it was Monica a few days ago, but, how many people have died on highways in this country?" said Mary Spear, the soap opera star's aunt. "Monica had to die so that the whole world learns that we can't be out on the street because we're afraid."

Investigators believe motive was robbery

The head of Venezuela's national crime investigation agency said Thursday that investigators believe robbery was the motive in the attack.

But during Wednesday's meeting, Maduro theorized that the killings may not have been a robbery or a normal street crime.

"This murder seems more like a contract killing," he said.

The president did not elaborate on his statement.

Four men, a woman and two minors with ties to the crime have been arrested. Four other suspects remain on the loose, including the man believed to have the murder weapon, said Jose Gregorio Sierralta, director of the Corps of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations.

"We have managed to apprehend and totally break up this dangerous gang," he said.

Sierralta stressed that dealing with violence is not just the government's responsibility.

"Crime is everyone's problem," he said. "We cannot distance ourselves from this reality. ... We must reflect on each case as parents, as professionals. What are Venezuelans doing to help to solve these expressions of criminality that are so strong that have been affecting us in recent months?"

Grandfather: 5-year-old still has bullet lodged in leg

Throngs of mourners have come to the Caracas funeral home to pay respects to Spear. A funeral for the actress is set for Friday.

Spear was Miss Venezuela in 2004 and represented her country in the Miss Universe pageant the next year.

Her popularity opened the door to acting roles in soap operas that eventually made her an international star.

Spear, who studied theater at the University of Central Florida before winning the Miss Venezuela crown, appeared on the Telemundo soap operas "Flor Salvaje" (Savage Flower) and "Pasion Prohibida" (Forbidden Passion).

The actress's daughter, Maya, was released from the hospital and is with family.

The girl still has a bullet lodged in her leg, but doctors expect her to recover, said Rafael Spear, Monica Spear's father and the child's grandfather.

"She has not yet asked about her parents. I think she knows what happened," he told CNN en EspaƱol Thursday. "It's something that's going to come up sooner rather than later."

The family has reached out to psychologists about how to handle the situation, her brother, Ricardo Spear, told HLN's Nancy Grace.

"We're going to do it slowly. We're going to use metaphors: They went to heaven; they're up there watching you; they're taking care of you; they love you," he said.

The Spear family is not one to hold on to anger, the brother said, and has nothing to say to whoever ended Monica Spear's life. Family members are filled with sadness but hope that something good can come from the tragedy, he said.

"We're not focusing on police agencies or information about how this happened," he said. "We're focusing on spreading a message of peace, a message of love."

Venezuela is one of the world's most violent countries, according to a United Nations ranking.

One person is killed roughly every 21 minutes in Venezuela. And there were 24,700 violent deaths last year in the oil-rich country of roughly 30 million people, according to the nonprofit Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

The observatory says the country's murder rate has soared to nearly 80 deaths per 100,000 people. Government statistics put the figure significantly lower, at 39 deaths per 100,000.

Even though she was also an American citizen, Spear loved traveling through Venezuela and exploring the country and wanted to see the security situation improve, Rafael Spear said.

"Monica was in love with Venezuela ... What happened should never happen to anyone else in this beautiful country," Rafael Spear said. "We must work together to make the country safe. We must disarm the people. We must make it so we can go out at night, like we did before."

CNN's Patricia Janiot, Rafael Romo and Alejandra Oraa contributed to this report.

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