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BRAZILIAN STREET URCHINS TAKE REFUGE AFTER MASSACRE OF KIDS

SHARE BRAZILIAN STREET URCHINS TAKE REFUGE AFTER MASSACRE OF KIDS

Legions of fearful street urchins took refuge in makeshift shelters Saturday while an outraged nation demanded swift punishment for gunmen who massacred seven homeless boys.

Survivors and police attributed Friday's killings to off-duty police.The youths were shot to death before dawn as they slept on dirty blankets and cardboard in the shadow of the Candelaria Cathedral in downtown Rio. They were like many of Brazil's estimated 7 million street urchins who live shoeless, homeless and unclaimed by family members.

President Itamar Franco, who said he was "horrified" by news of the killings, flew to Rio with Justice Minister Mauricio Correa to follow the case.

"Expressing horror before such a tragedy is too little," said a front-page editorial Saturday in the Rio daily O Globo. "Steps must be taken to ensure the lives of peaceful citizens and minors from the possible beastly reaction of extermination squads."

But the investigation took a step back on Saturday when the state police released two troopers arrested in the slaying after five survivors failed to identify them in a lineup. No other arrests were made.

At the Rio morgue, family members on Saturday identified three of the victims of the shooting.

The first identified was Marcelo Candido de Jesus, 14, who left his home in the outlying suburb of Itaborai in May to earn money for the family after his father suffered a heart attack.

The other two were listed as Waldevino Miguel de Almeida, 17, and Paulo Roberto de Oliveira, 11, according to morgue employees.

Scores of street boys and girls who normally sleep on the deserted streets of Rio's financial district flocked to improvised shelters set up by volunteers in the city's affluent South Zone.

The Pio X square where the cathedral stands was deserted but for a wooden cross left by the victims' friends, and some of the childrens' clothing left hanging on wash lines.