A former Miss Venezuela and her ex-husband have been shot dead in front of their 5-year-old daughter as they resisted robbers by locking the doors of their broken-down car.
The slaying of Monica Spear, 29, a popular soap-opera actress, and Thomas Henry Berry, a 39-year-old British citizen, was the latest high-profile crime in a country where killings are common in armed robberies and where rampant kidnapping has ensnared even foreign ambassadors and professional baseball players.
Spear and Berry were killed near Puerto Cabello, the country's main port, while headed to Caracas after their car hit "a sharp object that had been placed on the highway," the director of the country's investigative police, Jose Gregorio Sierralta, told reporters.
Sierralta said the attack occurred after the car had been lifted onto a tow truck and, seeing the assailants coming, the family locked themselves in their car. He said the daughter, Maya, was treated for a light leg wound and was with relatives in Caracas.
Police in Puerto Cabello had arrested five suspects, some under age 18, Sierralta added.
The family had spent New Year's in the mountains of the western state of Merida then traveled to the plains, said Luis Carlos Dominguez, a longtime friend and former business associate of Berry, who he said was raised in Venezuela and ran a travel agency.
"He knew Venezuela a lot better than many Venezuelans," said Dominguez, describing the slain couple as people "who really loved the country," had a good relationship despite their divorce and made it a point to vacation together.
"They weren't together," he said. "But they were very attached for the benefit of their daughter."
He said Venezuelans can only hope that their deaths bring "a bit more strength to fight against crime," which badly deteriorated during the 14-year rule of Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last March.
Venezuelans, who are also plagued food and other shortages, list crime as their most pressing worry.
The country has one of the world's highest murder rates - the United Nations has ranked it 5th globally - and violent crime is so rampant that Venezuelans tend to stay home after dark.
Spear's death triggered a wave of anger on social media directed at the populist government's poor record on crime.
President Nicolas Maduro commented on her death in remarks carried live by state TV, lamenting "the loss of a very spiritual young woman" actively involved in various charities.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on Maduro to put aside political differences and unite "to win the fight against insecurity" that claimed nearly 25,000 lives last year. "It's an emergency."
According to the nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, the oil-rich South American country's murder rate was 79 per 100,000 inhabitants last year. Government statistics put the rate lower. The nonprofit group said 95 percent of the country's murders go unsolved.
Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004, was 5th runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant the following year and had acted in numerous soap operas, most recently in "Pasion Prohibida" for the U..based Telemundo network.
She split her time between Caracas and south Florida, said Dominguez, while the England-born Berry lived in Caracas.
Spear had more than 355,000 followers on Twitter and her feed over the last week included brief videos of vacation scenes sent on the popular Instagram service.
In one video, posted on Sunday and described as being taken on the plains of Apure state, Spear looks at the camera while riding a horse, turns away and then looks back, blowing a kiss.