American Nun Shot to Death in Brazil

Though the investigation still is in its infancy, this gruesome murder of an American nun who fought for the voiceless peasants against the powerful loggers and ranchers tells the story of courage of an ordinary person doing extraordinary works among the oppressed and forgotten. Let's hope that Brazilian government takes necessary steps to apprehend the culprits behind the murder.


American Nun Shot to Death in Brazil

Filed at 7:01 p.m. ET

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- An American nun was shot to death in northern Brazil on Saturday, less then a week after she accused loggers and ranchers of threatening to kill rural workers, authorities said.

Dorothy Stang, 74, was shot in the face three times near the town of Anapu, about 2,100 kilometers north of Sao Paulo in the Amazon region, federal police officer Fernando Raiol said.

Stang, who had lived in Brazil since 1996 and worked in the region for more than 20 years, was headed to a meeting with local peasants when her group was attacked, police said.

Two suspects had already been taken into custody, police said.

Stang, of Dayton, Ohio, had lobbied forcefully against efforts by loggers and large landowners to expropriate lands and clear large areas of the Amazon rainforest.

``She was basically protected by her status as being an old lady and being a nun. She also recently became a Brazilian citizen, and she thought that would help but it obviously didn't,'' said her niece Angela Mason, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She said Stang had told them there was a price on her head.

The early morning attack came less than a week after Stang met with Human Rights Secretary Nilmario Miranda to report that four local farmers had received death threats.

``This is extremely serious,'' Miranda told reporters. ``We cannot allow this murder to go unpunished.''

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered federal police to conduct a thorough investigation into Stang's murder.

About 15 federal officers were immediately dispatched to the crime scene, police said. Miranda and Environment Minister Marina Silva also were sent to Anapu to oversee the investigation.

Stang was a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an international Catholic religious order of about 2,000 women in five continents.

Last June, Stang was honored by the state of Para for her work in the Amazon region. In December she received an award from the Brazilian Bar Association for her work helping the local rural workers.

``She was awesome. A little old bundle of joy. She was the happiest person,'' Mason said. ``She needed nothing. She just loved the people down there.''