The Dominican Republic’s minister of environment and natural resources has been shot and killed in his office by a close childhood friend, police in the country have said.
Orlando Jorge Mera, 55, was holding a meeting at the time of the attack on Monday, June 6, and at least six shots were heard during the attack, police say.
A presidential spokesman identified the killer as Miguel de Jesús Cruz de la Mota describing him as a childhood friend of the minister. He was later arrested at a church dozens of blocks away after telling a priest he committed a crime and handed over a gun to him.
As shots rang out late Monday morning, people on the street yelled and took cover as those fleeing the buidling climbed over a tall fence after first throwing over purses, backpacks and even a pair of shoes because the building’s main gates were locked.
Officials gave no motive for the shooting, and it wasn’t immediately clear if Cruz, 56, had an attorney.
Authorities said that in a phone conversation with Cruz while he was at the church, he promised to turn himself in if they guaranteed he wouldn’t be killed.
Heavily armed police officers took him into custody at the church, which is about a 15-minute drive from the office where Jorge was shot.
When he was brought out, Cruz was wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest and kept his head mostly down as the glasses he wore slid slightly down his nose. One bystander yelled: “You killed a good man! Murderer!”
Police say Cruz is now in custody even though the motive for the shooting remains unclear as at press time.
In a statement, Jorge Mera’s family said he had been shot multiple times by a man he was friends with since childhood but that they had forgiven his killer.
“Our family forgives the person who did this. One of Orlando’s greatest legacies was to not hold grudges,” they added.
Authorities said they were investigating the motive. Sources close to the probe told the AFP news agency the two men had recently been at loggerheads over environmental policy, although the details of the dispute were not clear.
Jorge Mera had promised upon taking office to work for the “responsible” use of natural resources, to protect ecosystems and slash pollution and had recently told local media he had reported thousands of cases to the judiciary for violations.
The 55-year-old minister came from a powerful political family. Beyond his father, who served as president from 1982 to 1986, his sister is a vice minister in Abinader’s administration. His wife is ambassador to Brazil.
His son is a legislator in the Modern Revolutionary Party, of which Jorge was a founding member along with Abinader.
He was appointed to his most recent post in August 2020 following Abinader’s election victory.