RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian authorities inaccurately informed the family of a British journalist missing in the Amazon rainforest that two bodies had been found, according to an apology the Brazilian ambassador to the United Kingdom sent to family members Tuesday.
The family of Dom Phillips, a contributor to the Guardian and former contract writer for The Washington Post, received a message from Brazilian Embassy officials early Monday, asking to talk. Paul Sherwood, Phillips’s brother-in-law, was then told that two bodies had been found tied to a tree. Officials suspected — but had not yet confirmed — that the bodies belonged to Phillips and his traveling companion, Bruno Pereira, a longtime official with Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs agency.
The family passed the disturbing information on to reporters. But the information was not accurate, the embassy has acknowledged in a letter sent to the family.
“We are deeply sorry the Embassy passed on to the family yesterday information that did not prove correct,” Ambassador Fred Arruda wrote. “Information received from investigating officials misled the multiagency team at the Embassy.”
He said the embassy had acted with “precipitation” in communicating the information to the family. “I wholeheartedly apologize,” the ambassador wrote.
The confusion was the latest misstep by officials in a search effort that has been riddled with them, critics say.
Phillips and Pereira went missing June 5 after venturing into the remote Javari Valley to investigate increasing pressure from illegal hunters and fishermen. But it wasn’t until days later that the government mobilized a full search party to look for the missing men. A helicopter, seen as a critical tool in hunting for men lost in a massive territory, was absent in the early hours.
As the days have gone by, and additional information has emerged, hopes have dimmed that the men would be found alive. Pereira, who had been mapping criminal activity in the territory, had earlier been threatened. Then, during the expedition, an Indigenous surveillance team reported that he was threatened again. One man reportedly brandished a gun.
Police have since arrested that man, and officials say blood was found in his boat. Search parties have also recovered what appears to be human remains and have sent them for genetic testing. Items that belonged to the men — boots, an ID card, a backpack — have also been recovered, officials said.
“All indications point to the belief that they did something bad to the men,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said this week. “With the time frame we have, eight days becoming nine, and what has happened, it will be very unlikely to find them living.”