Police in Rio de Janeiro are refusing to confirm, despite witness statements, that a bus full of international basketball journalists was shot at on its way to the main Olympic park, arguing that assailants could have broken the bus’s windows by throwing rocks at it.
The bus was carrying a variety of local and international journalists from the basketball venue to the heart of the Olympic complex Friday night when it was struck, a glass window shattering and the flying debris injuring two passengers.
“We were shot at. I mean we could hear the report of the gun,” Sherryl “Lee” Michaelson, a retired U.S. Air Force captain now working as a basketball journalist, told Reuters after the incident. Michaelson later testified that she told other passengers to “get down” when she heard the sound. “I know what a gun sounds like. There was a very distinctive sound of the report of a gun,” she explained, noting that she heard gunshots before the bus’s window shattered.
Rio de Janeiro officials refuse to confirm that the bus was shot at, however. In a statement, the Olympics Organizing Committee said it was seeking new surveillance footage and other evidence that would indicate the bus was shot at. Until then, they are leaving open the possibility that someone threw stones at the bus, shattering the glass.
“We haven’t yet been able to confirm what kind of projectile hit the bus. We don’t want to speculate,” Rio spokesman Mario Andrada told Reuters.
Police also released the testimony of the driver, who likened the sound of the glass shattering to photography equipment falling down. He continued to drive until he saw a police car, he says, and only then realized the windows had been shattered.
According to Michaelson, the driver reacted inappropriately to the reported gunshots. He did “precisely the opposite of what he should have done, which was to put the gas on and floor it,” and instead slowed down.
A Reuters reporter on the bus took a photo of the window, showing a finger-width hole in the bus’s window.
The Brazilian newspaper O Globo, which had a journalist on the bus, reports that their source believes at least two bullets or “stones” hit the bus. The journalist identified one of the injured as a Turkish computer scientist who was working the Olympics as a volunteer, and published a photo of lacerations on his hand.
Olympic officials have heightened the Brazilian military presence in the area.
This is the second such incident against a media bus since the Olympics began. On Saturday, a bus transporting Chinese basketball reporters was caught in the middle of a gunfight while attempting to transport the passengers to a different part of the Olympic Village. In that case, however, the gunshots were not intended for the bus itself, and no one was injured.
Rio de Janeiro’s violent crime problem has plagued the Olympics for weeks, as athletes arrived early to train before the ceremonies began. Among the most notable occurrences of such violent crime have been two prominent robberies, both failed: one against Portugal’s minister of education – who escaped unscathed after locals tackled and restrained his assailant – and an attempted robbery against the head of security for the Olympic Games. That robbery ended when an undercover police officer shot and killed the attacker.
Brazil has deployed 85,000 soldiers to Rio de Janeiro to aid in security at the Games, in addition to Rio de Janeiro’s police force and private security.