Hopes of finding a British journalist and a Brazilian guide faded on Friday as police announced an unsettling development in the search for the two men last seen five days ago on a remote river in Amazonia.
“Search teams found on the river, near to Atalaia do Norte, apparently human organic material,” Brazil’s federal police said in a statement.
Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were reported missing on Sunday morning after they failed to show up in the town of Atalaia do Norte at the end of a reporting trip near Brazil’s border with Peru.
Police also confirmed blood had been found on a boat belonging to Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, a man police arrested earlier this week in connection with their disappearance.
Although police said they had no evidence directly tying da Costa de Oliveira to any crime, nor even if the blood on the boat was human or animal, the announcement was a blow to hopes the two men, now missing for more than five days, would be found alive.
Police said the material was being sent for examination and took DNA from Phillips’ home in Salvador and from the family of Pereira in Recife.
“The genetic material collected will be used in comparative analysis with the blood found on the boat,” they added.
Phillips, 57, had been resident in Brazil for 15 years and was a longtime contributor to the Guardian, the Washington Post and other international publications.
He was in the Amazon reporting for a book on sustainable development and was accompanied by Pereira, an explorer and Indigenous advocate who had years of experience in navigating the rivers and forest in what is one of the remotest parts of the rainforest.
The Vale do Javari region is home to 26 Indigenous tribes, many of whom have had little contact with outsiders.
However, their land, like much of the land in the Amazon, is much coveted by illegal miners, hunters and loggers, as well as drug traffickers.
Pereira had been threatened before for his work in the area, helping indigenous communities protect their traditional lands from invaders.
Da Costa de Oliveira was arrested with arms and ammunition and sources said he threatened Phillips, Pereira and a group of 13 Indigenous people on Saturday morning as they stopped at a community on the Itaquaí river.