It has been a month since the late-night knock at Mônica Benício’s door: a friend arriving to announce the love of her life was not coming home.

“I ran at her shouting: ‘Where’s Marielle? Where’s Marielle?’” the 32-year-old architect recalled.

“I screamed and I shouted. I smashed part of the house … None of it seemed real … It was like I was having a nightmare and would wake up at any moment. But as more and more friends arrived it became more and more real. More concrete. More desperate.”

Less than two miles away, Marielle Franco, a 38-year-old activist and rising political star known for defending Rio’s black, LGBT and favela communities, lay slumped on the backseat of a white Chevrolet having been shot in the head four times as she returned from a debate in downtown Rio.

Benício pummeled her friend with questions: “Was it an attempted robbery? Are they taking her to the doctor’s? Can they help her?”

“No,” came the reply. “She was dead and there wasn’t … anything to be done.”

Weeks after the murder of the Rio councillor and her driver, Anderson Gomes, her partner perched on a sofa in their home in north Rio and sobs as she relived the events of 14 March. Next year – after a 14-year, on-off romance – the couple were to marry.

Symbols of the couple’s shared passion for activism and the arts pepper the airy lounge: murals of Frida Kahlo and Angela Davis; records by politically charged composers such as Chico Buarque and Mercedes Sosa and contemporary black artists like Marina Iris and her group ÉPreta; a portrait of Florestan Fernandes, a Brazilian sociologist who rose from poverty to write seminal works on race and democracy – issues central to Franco’s mission.

Franco’s killing has sparked an outpouring of reverence and revolt. Brazilian newspapers are filled with stories about her life; demonstrators have swarmed on to the streets to chant: “Marielle presente!” – Rio’s answer to “Je suis Charlie!”

“There are two Marielles: the one we are all out on the streets shouting is alive and the Marielle who is my companion and who I still haven’t managed to mourn,” said Benício. “I still haven’t accepted this has happened.”

At dawn on Saturday supporters will mark one month since Franco’s murder by decorating public squares with balloons, flowers and banners.

Yet Franco’s killers, who many suspect belong to the increasingly powerful paramilitary groups that control swaths of Rio, have yet to be caught. Authorities claim progress is being made but have said little about the state of their inquiry. “We are advancing, but under strict secrecy,” said Homero Freitas Filho, a public prosecutor on a taskforce pursuing the killers.

Franco’s murder has punctuated a dismal chapter in the contemporary history of this spectacular but troubled beach city.

Almost a decade ago, the then president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who last week began a prison sentence for a disputed corruption conviction, wept with joy after Rio was chosen to host the 2016 Olympics.

Since then, however, Brazil’s “Marvellous City” has tumbled into a whirlpool of overlapping crises – economic, political and security – from which it is struggling to emerge before October elections.


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