Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producer: Steven Burling
In Sao Paulo, just walking outside your front door can be dangerous. Not even children are safe.
The men and women who track down and rescue the hostages are members of Brazil's crack anti-kidnapping unit.
Allison Langdon joined these courageous men and women for one incredibly intense week.
At times, Allison felt like she had wandered onto the set of a Hollywood action movie — except on this beat the bad guys and the bullets are real.
Photos: See more from Brazil here
STORY – ALLISON LANGDON: Dawn on the outskirts of Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paolo, and the elite anti-kidnapping squad is closing in one of the city’s most notorious criminals - gang leader Livio Bruno, who’s kidnapped more than 100 people. These frontline officers are the only defence against a wave of abductions that is all but crippling this city. Who do they target, these gangs?
JORGE: Anybody. I had cousins being kidnapped, friends being kidnapped during the day.
ALLISON LANGDON: So you’re always looking over your shoulder?
JORGE: Always, always.
ALLISON LANGDON: Sao Paolo is a city of extremes, where multi-million-dollar mansions press against huge favelas - makeshift suburbs that seem to stretch on forever. And it’s because of this clash of poverty and prosperity that 200 people are abducted every month, according to local businessman-turned-film-maker, Jorge Atalla.
JORGE: You don’t stop on a stop light in Sao Paolo - after midnight nobody stops because everyone is still afraid of being kidnapped.
ALLISON LANGDON: How do you live like that?
JORGE: It’s not a normal way. It’s not a normal way to live.
ALLISON LANGDON: My week in Sao Paolo begins on patrol in one of the toughest neighborhoods. Who are you looking for tonight?
EDUARDO: I’m always looking for criminals with guns.
ALLISON LANGDON: Anyone who looks suspicious?
EDUARDO: Anyone who looks suspicious, yes. Kidnappers could be anywhere.
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s close to midnight when an urgent call comes in - and we’re suddenly tearing through Sao Paolo, hitting 160km/h. This is the specially formed anti-kidnapping division - the DAS. Night after night, they target the areas where abductions are rife, looking for the tell-tale signs of a kidnap - weapons, stolen credit cards, a victim’s ID. The job is unpredictable huh?
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s going to be a long night.
ALLISON LANGDON: The work is incredibly dangerous, and they don’t get paid much. Why do they do it?
JORGE: Because they like what they do. They like what they do. I mean, they said that the feeling you have when you take someone from captivity is a feeling – is a rush that you’re never going to have in your life. Especially a child. Every time they took a child from captivity they cried. They cried.
ALLISON LANGDON: No case was more dramatic than that of six-year-old Jayce, who was ripped from her mother’s arms by two gunmen as she left her father’s shop. Police immediately suspected the family’s nanny, and her drug-dealing boyfriend. Jorge filmed the whole rescue.
JORGE: If the police had not got there on time, the family was going to pay the ransom and they were going to kill the little girl.
ALLISON LANGDON: That six-year-old would have been murdered?
JORGE: Yes, usually when there are children involved, they murder the children because there’s always someone that the child recognises. So when there’s a child kidnapped they - everybody stops, the whole DAS stop, and they only work on the case of the child, because they know they’re working against the clock.
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s hard to fathom, but more people call Sao Paolo home than live in all of Australia, and the threat of being kidnapped is something they live with every single day. Little wonder personal security is everything in this city. The super-rich literally rise above the danger, flying from high-rise to high-rise, while those who risk the roads often do so in bullet-proof cars. So this is bullet-proof?
CAR DEALER: Bulletproof, yes.
ALLISON LANGDON: What’s surprising is it’s not just the super wealthy who are targeted - more and more often it’s ordinary people who are snatched from the streets and held for ransom.
ANDERSON: The first few days were the worst. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.
ALLISON LANGDON: 22-year-old Anderson comes from a typical middle class family - his father runs a small restaurant. Anderson was snatched by two armed men right outside his front door. Handcuffed and blindfolded, he was taken to a hideout on the edge of the city. Did you think they were going to kill you?
ANDERSON: Si, yes.
ALLISON LANGDON: Did they hurt you?
ANDERSON: Psychologically they tortured me daily - they said they were going to cut off my fingers and an ear, and send it to my father.
ALLISON LANGDON: The kidnappers filmed Anderson as he begged for his life.
ANDERSON: I asked my father to take the police off of the case, and pay the ransom as soon as he could, so that I could survive.
JORGE: When a person is in captivity, every day he is being tortured. Every day.
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s really a form of terrorism, really, isn’t it?
JORGE: It is a form of terrorism – it is psychological terrorism.
ALLISON LANGDON: The excruciating negotiations dragged into days, then weeks. How much money were they demanding?
ANDERSON: In the beginning they asked for $500,000.
ALLISON LANGDON: Was that money you could pay?
JORGE: When they ask for an amount always, for the victims’ families, it’s very important to say that they do not have the money – If it takes a month, or 40 days, or 50 days - it gives time for the police to capture the kidnapper.
ALLISON LANGDON: But as a family member, knowing your loved one’s life is at risk, to be refusing to pay that money must be incredibly difficult.
JORGE: Very difficult.
ALLISON LANGDON: Police were able to intercept a phone call between the kidnappers and Anderson’s father, and that gave them the breakthrough they so desperately needed.
ANDERSON: The day of the rescue, I was thinking of committing suicide. I had taken my shoelaces from my shoe and had tied them around my neck, but suddenly I fell into a very deep, deep sleep, and during this sleep I heard a bang. I thought it was a shot, that shots were being fired, and I was very scared. Suddenly a woman comes in and says “Anderson, this is the police. You’re free.”
ALLISON LANGDON: Anderson went into shock. After 28 days in captivity, his first phone call was to his dad.
ALLISON LANGDON: And what did you say to him?
ANDERSON: I love him.
ALLISON LANGDON: And what did he say to you?
ANDERSON: I also.
ALLISON LANGDON: How often do you think about what happened?
ANDERSON: Sometimes I fall back into the state of depression, but most of the time I want to believe that it did not happen to me.
ALLISON LANGDON: Fighting this war demands intelligence, patience, and the sheer force of Sao Paolo’s equivalent of SWAT. So it’s the very dangerous situations where your team is sent in?
ALLISON LANGDON: Are we about to do a hostage situation now, are we?
CASSIO: Yes. Go in the window, take you, and down.
ALLISON LANGDON: This is training for a real-life rescue, and my heart is racing as I’m about to rapell down the inside of a nine-storey building.
CASSIO: No problem?
ALLISON LANGDON: No problem.
ALLISON LANGDON: Good. Yep, it is fine. It’s physically demanding, and one of the strangest days I’ve ever experienced. It’s exactly this training that will help them capture men like Livio Bruno, who police have been pursuing for more than a year. Did you recognize the man who kidnapped you?
TONI: I recognized him immediately. 100%, that’s the guy.
ALLISON LANGDON: This man is Livio Bruno’s latest kidnapping victim. They forced you into a car at gunpoint?
VICTIM: Exactly. Exactly.
ALLISON LANGDON: This is the crucial piece of information that police need - and at 4:00 the next morning, they prepare to move in on Livio Bruno. Will they to be armed?
TONI: Yeah, sure, always.
ALLISON LANGDON: So is the point of going this early so that you surprise them?
TONI: Yeah, it is going to be a surprise attack.
ALLISON LANGDON: No one is underestimating the dangers - the 27-year-old is a ruthless criminal. So this is a big guy - a big arrest you are going to make this morning?
ALBERTO: Molto granche (very big).
ALLISON LANGDON: We arrive outside his home, in one of Sao Paolo’s toughest neighbourhoods. Police can only hope that Livio Bruno hasn’t been tipped off about their arrival. It’s an undignified end for a man who has inflicted untold misery on at least 115 families. You know who he is because of the tattoo on his arm?
ALBERTO: Si, yes, his mother.
ALLISON LANGDON: This is the chief of the gang you’ve been looking for?
ALBERTO: Yes, yes.
ALLISON LANGDON: You’ve been investigating him for what, a year now?
ALBERTO: One year, yes.
ALLISON LANGDON: Well done. Well done.
ALBERTO: Yeah, yeah it’s very nice.
ALLISON LANGDON: The Police Officers of the Anti-Kidnapping Division willingly risk their lives in this often-violent struggle. But it’s victories like this that make it all worthwhile. Why do you do this job?
TONI: I think it’s in my blood, something I always when I was kid - I always wanted to do.
ALLISON LANGDON: You like being the good guy.
TONI: Oh yeah, sure, 35 years living this.
ALLISON LANGDON: So how do you feel about the guy you’ve just arrested?
TONI: Ah, like mission accomplished.
Additional vision from Sequestro — Director: Jorge Wolney Atalla.