Held at Gunpoint- Here’s a blog you don’t hear every day.

by RQ on December 10, 2012

Ellen and Roger in Brazil 2002

When we were adopting our beautiful girls from Brazil we were held at gunpoint for four hours at a dear friends house. Here is a link to an interview with my wife Ellen and I as well as our diary of the night.



The Robbery

Monday, March 11, 2002

Campinas Brazil.

Sunday March 10th we were up all night on the plane traveling from New York to Sao Paulo. Ellen had three seats. She won the toss, but I would have given them to her anyway. I scrunched up on two seats, sleeping fitfully for an hour at a time. God bless the tranquilizers.

We arrived in Sao Paulo an hour late, around 11 a.m. Somehow we were the very last people through customs, and Bob was beginning to worry. We greeted Bob’s warm presence with relief after recalling so many exhausted hours marching around the Sao Paulo airport between the morning arrival and the afternoon flight to Florianapolis. I really thought we had it figured out. Straight to Bob’s house for a rest before resuming our journey to Criciumma the next day.

Bob’s house in Campinas is about an hour away from the Sao Paulo airport. It’s a pretty highway after leaving the city limits. The entrance to Bobs house is a surprisingly long dirt road heavily damaged by the rains. Bob takes this road at twice the speed I would in Vermont, but then again, he must use it many times a day in order to function. He later informed me he is not allowed to fix the road, as it does not belong to his land.

All at once the road levels out and we are at the stone pillars and closed metal gates of Bob’s estate. A very large retired coffee plantation, with a beautiful river running through it.

We drive up to a grand old farmhouse surrounded by a furnished veranda. Six dogs greet you at the car, a big black lab, two small sheared beige poodles and three fine medium mutts. On the porch are canaries, parakeets and a grumpy old parrot that tell the dogs to “GO OUTSIDE”. He bites. Inside, high ceilings, beautiful old furnishings and paintings, a stocked bar complete with ice, and a fine formal dining room. Really, a visitors dream.

Bob’s mother, Evelyn, is a fine spirited woman in her 70”s. A very gracious, straight  forward Brazilian/Scottish Kathryn Hepburn type speaking perfect English with a slight British or Scottish clip. Bob’s son Victor, now 12, is a tall (5 ft.), handsome and a perfect gentleman, albeit a little shy, greets us at the car with a hug and an offer to carry our bags. Vera and Tom, both six, two bright-eyed coffee beans view us from the veranda with typical curiosity. Both are adorable, both never stop moving. Tom is a ball of fire –shot out of a cannon. They are affectionate and loveable, understand English but refuse to speak it. Unless of course they think they need to like when Tom whispered to me ”come into my room and I’ll show you something”.

We had drinks on the veranda, exchanged gifts and banter until a late lunch, 2-3 o’clock, of rice, beans, salad, steak and, I believe, banana crumble. It was great. We then rested in our room, which is the first room on the left. Bob’s and Victors room – very gracious people. The afternoon slipped by shopping for a cell phone inCampinas, so Aline could reach us. Around 8 pm we were called to a typical light Brazilian dinner of rolls, butter, cheese, cold cuts, juice etc. Just lovely and relaxing.

Around 8:30 two masked figures literally jump through the window (about 4’ off the ground outside), one with an old rifle, one a revolver like the N.Y.C. policemen use. The rifleman wears a black ski mask, the other a green horror mask from a monster Halloween costume. Ellen, thinking it’s Victor acting in the very height of older brother-scare your siblings-bad taste, yells “that’s not funny, that’s scary”.  I must admit, I thought the same thing even though Victor was sitting right next to me. Our brains simply couldn’t conceive of the true reality of the situation in the first instant. My first clue was Vera’s crying face as she headed to Bob seeking comfort.

Everybody froze as they screamed at Bob “where are your guns, where are your guns”. Bob said “ I have no guns in the house”. Naturally, they called him a liar. They swung the rifle around pointing it at Victor and I, yelling in Portuguese.  Ellen reacted unconsciously and screamed “put the gun down” or something to that effect. It worked, he pointed the rifle to the ceiling to avoid hysteria.

I said ‘No fahla Portuguese” and they were surprised and asked Bob who we were. Bob replied “Americans” .”why”. ”here to adopt children”. ”to sell their hearts and kidneys in America”. We were all glued to the dining room table. They told me to look down. Three other gunman arrive, one with his t-shirt wrapped around his head as a mask, and a large gut hanging over his belt like a pork roast. They all have a dishelved dirty appearance. I notice the green mask fellow’s fly is open with his shirttails sticking out. They are around 20 years old, clearly poor, very pumped up and looking for a fight. Nervous, dark and dirty.

They remove Bob from the dining room table for a long time. I slide Victor’s chair over to mine and put my arm around him. Vera is sobbing into Evelyn’s arms. Tom is asleep. Ellen’s eyes meet mine from across the table and expressed deadly seriousness, to serious to risk a message. Twice they took Evelyn out and Vera leaped into Ellen’s arms. Ellen shielded her eyes form the villains.

Later, I find out this is an inside job. Probably a disgruntled employee fired for stealing. They know everything about the house. The whereabouts of the safe, when Bob’s sister is coming home with the pick-up truck, everything. They weren’t expecting two Americans in the house-a hefty cash bonus plus our things.

They have taken Bob to the safe and to ransack the house with a guide. They may have been gone 40 minutes or so but really it is impossible to tell. In retelling the story Bob informs me that they found an old gun in the safe from his grandfather. The black ski mask calls him a liar, put three bullets in the chamber and threatens to play Russian roulette. This is instead of just killing him because “he is a brave man and I don’t like to kill brave men”. The green mask says “no”. They empty the safe and untold other rooms before returning to the dining room. Naturally, none of us are ever alone.

But what about my feelings. Was I scared. Yes, but I felt like some crazy mechanism of survival kept my brain from the adrenaline or a rapid heart rate or the true fear of dying that night. I found I was able to think about it all, but was not possessed by it. I noticed Ellen didn’t cry or looked freaked out. Everybody stayed calm. Especially Bob who did all the talking.

Upon retuning, they asked where my money was. They grabbed Ellen and I to go to our bedroom to search our things. Bob came along to translate. The green mask held my t-shirt tight around my neck with his gun in my back down the long hallway to the bedroom. I gave them my wallet and pocket cash. They yelled for American dollars. I had a zipper pocket in my knapsack with about $100.00 U.S.for arrival in J.F.K. after the trip. They screamed for more. I decided there was no point in trying to salvage a hidden cache of money. The more money they felt they had the sooner they might leave.

We rifled through Ellen’s purse and found a couple of thousand dollars U.S.I didn’t know Ellen had other stashes. They later found them and got angry with us, threatening to kill Bob for lying. Bob pointed out that they had the purse the whole time. The commenced to emptying our suitcases on the floor and refill them with things they intended to take.

By the way , when Bob returned to the dining room he had his sister Irene in tow. She arrived by pick-up truck. I didn’t know who she was and thought she must have been asleep in another room, perhaps a maid.

The robbers were unprofessional and goofy. They asked if my sneakers were men’s or women’s, they tried them on and took them. They took any of my clothes that were nicely folded-dress shirts reserved for the judge, creased pants etc., leaving my collection of shorts and black t-shirts on the floor. All watches, cameras, jewelry, palm pilots, suitcases, pens and pencils were taken. They took  a pair of antique earring that Ellen was wearing. They took all of Bob shirts and underwear.  They rode the exercise bike in the room like children. They found some mentos candy and the green mask offered Ellen one. Is it drugs or candy? Was he trying to be nice. Ellen wanted the film from her camera, but I whispered not to engage them in any way. She couldn’t help herself regarding a glass bead necklace she had as a gift for Giki- “it’s not worth anything” she blurted out and they left it. It takes strength to imagine a future at that moment, which is why Ellen wanted the necklace…for our friend Giki.

It was totally insane, objects everywhere. “What’s this, what’s that , how much is it worth, LIAR, it’s worth more.” Finally we were returned to the dining room and herded onto two small couches and a chair. It’s been about two hours at this point. They are getting sloppier and sloppier. Some of the guns are lowered or put into their belts. They are eating yogurt and cookies, but they have also discovered the Jack Daniels and beer. This was very worrisome for me as I know that it creates a different kind of courage. Thank God the girls weren’t with us or Bob’s beautiful teenage niece, who we met the following day, to create an even worse scenario. The dogs, save the poodles were locked up. The poodles huddled in our laps.

We were there for a long time. They even sat across from us and began to chat with Bob. We all tried to keep Evelyn cool, she wanted to tell them off. She hid jewelry in her shoe and under her seat. She is tough and unafraid of a fight, saying things like ”that’s my grandchild’s breakfast you’re eating”. There were many times while sitting there that they were far enough away from me to bolt out the open door, about 8 ft. away. But to what end. No resources, no plan-were there more of them out there?

Is it possible we would die without taking action or would taking action cause us to die. Thoughts of a good life passed through my mind. Hard work, a good marriage and many friends that would step up and take care of Aline. In many ways I was ready to go… I found that fascinating.

Bob implored them to leave, and they said “what’s the hurry”. They threatened to take Victor or Tom as a hostage. I’m sure it would have turned violent then. Little Tom slept through the whole thing on a couch shared with Ellen and I. We were sitting there for an hour while the others loaded the truck when I heard the magic words “emborha”…. Lets go.

Now they wanted a room to lock us in. Bob remembered a basement room with the safe and old beds in it. We were all herded outside and down stairs and into a 10’ x  20’ room filled with simple beds and a small window with bars. There were lights and it was clean, not the dark, dank basement from the movies. Renewed fears of guns going off in the final hour plagued me.

They warned us not to scream or try to get out for an hour. Nobody wanted to give them an excuse to shoot us. After about 15 minutes I heard the truck and Bob’s car pull away. The euphoria was unimaginable. The words “they left” kept reverberating through my mind. For me, the hour passed in 5 minutes, a mantra of “they left” echoing in my brain. Nobody panicked. We were alive. Better then alive. They left. We survived.

Every time I went near the small window with bars, everyone said “sit down, get back, not yet”. The bars were soft steel and the cement softer. With about three minutes effort the first bar came loose and I bent it out of place. Bob and I attacked the second bar together in half that time. Victor slid his lithe body out the window returning with the key. He handed the key through the window and we opened the door. Liberation.

We all talked about having a stiff drink and I honestly don’t know if anyone did. I went for the guarana. The house was a wreck. It was past midnight when we began to clean up. No one could sleep. We straightened up until about 2 or 3 in the morning, making new discoveries of things lost and things found, eventually finding the courage to go to sleep.

I don’t know when Bob said it, maybe on the small couches during the robbery , maybe the next day…”we are really brothers now”. Evelyn quickly chimed in “and you must call me mother”. So in the end it was we who were adopted by a fine and noble family. The next morning, to hugs and kisses we were formally introduced to Irene.


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