RIO DE JANEIRO — A 5-year-old girl who died Wednesday morning in Rio de Janeiro was the sixth child in the city slain this year after being struck by a stray bullet.
Ketellen Umbelino de Oliveira Gomes was walking to school with her mother on Tuesday when she was shot in the leg in the Realengo district of western Rio de Janeiro, according to police officials and witnesses.
Investigators believe she was caught in the crossfire of one of the gun battles waged routinely in the city by drug trafficking gangs vying for control of neighborhoods.
As her mother rushed her to a nearby clinic, Ketellen reportedly tried to comfort her.
“Even as she lay on the floor, she said: ‘Mom, don’t cry, don’t, Mom,’” a relative, Daise da Costa, told reporters.
The killing comes as police in Rio de Janeiro have intensified operations against drug gangs in the city, a crackdown that has left hundreds of people dead and scrambled turf wars among heavily armed gangs.
Since the beginning of the year, at least 21 children have been struck by stray bullets in Rio de Janeiro, according to Fogo Cruzado, or Crossfire, an organization that monitors violence in the city. Eleven of them were hit during police operations.
Ketellen is the youngest of the six fatal victims. The other five children killed this year ranged in age from 8 to 12.
Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Wilson Witzel, said he asked the police to carry out a “rigorous investigation of this crime and the others.”
Mr. Witzel, a former federal judge who has presidential aspirations and an acrimonious relationship with President Jair Bolsonaro, blamed the federal government for the bloodshed.
“Impeding the entry of drugs and weapons to the country is the responsibility of the federal government,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “The failure to combat, at the federal level, the trafficking of drugs and weapons, ends up fueling this insane war playing out in the states.”
Investigators believe the target of the shooting was another minor, Davi Gabriel Martins do Nascimento, 17, who was standing nearby. He was also fatally shot. Witnesses told police that two men walked out of a car around noon on Tuesday, took aim at the teenager and opened fire.
Ketellen underwent surgery overnight. She died Wednesday after losing too much blood.
Her father, Augusto de Oliveira, an unemployed painter, told reporters on Wednesday that the family was devastated.
“The feeling we’re left with is to go grab the jerk that did this and do the same thing to him,” he told reporters. “My daughter was only 5-years-old.”