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Venezuelan bishop backs effort against guns as beauty queen is buried

CARACAS, Venezuela -- On the day a Venezuelan actress and her ex-husband, both slain by gunmen, were laid to rest, the head of the country's Roman Catholic bishops said the church is ready to join the government in a campaign to persuade those with firearms to give them up.

Bishop Diego Padron of Caracas was responding to an appeal by Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who since the Monday night slayings of Monica Spear, an actress and 2004 Miss Venezuela, and former husband Thomas Henry Berry, has launched an effort to reduce firearm ownership.

The pair were the best-known among thousands of people slain each year in Venezuela, which is among the most violent countries in the hemisphere. President Nicolas Maduro has announced a "pacification plan" to reduce the number  firearms, although details on how he will accomplish it have been scarce.

Padron said that clergy members won’t take physical possession of any weapons and that the campaign should be part of a renewed effort for  political reconciliation.

“All sectors in the country should reject political exclusion and segregation,” Padron said, a reference to the polarization of political opponents. “Insecurity remains critical.”

Torres said he will launch a tour of states and big cities to appeal for help from local leaders "no matter what their political orientation.”

Hundreds of people were present Friday at the Cemetery of the East in Caracas where the two were buried.

Speaking at the cemetery before the services, Spear’s father, Rafael, called on the government to do something about “the violence in which we are living,” saying that it was a big reason for his decision to move to Florida.

More details were released on the killings of Spear and Berry in their car after a gang of thieves who preyed on disabled motorists opened fire on them, also wounding their 5-year-old daughter. Spear and Berry, who had locked themselves inside their Toyota Corolla on the Puerto Cabello-Valencia highway, were fired on seven times.

Seven people have been arrested. The one suspected of shooting the pair is Jean Carlos Colina, 19, who headed a gang called the Cambur Savages. 

Colina had no criminal record, lead investigator Jose Gregorio Sierralta said  Thursday.

The weapon has not been recovered. Colina is suspected of giving the weapon to a fellow gang member who was still at large.  Sierralta said telephone records were used in identifying and arresting the suspects.

Two witnesses to the killings, a tow truck driver and his assistant, are not believed to have been involved in the crime, Sierralta said, though they are still under investigation.

Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

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