What was behind the drive-by killer’s shooting spree?
Time was up. Four years after his first murder, the law finally caught up with 26-year-old Tiago Gomes da Rocha in October 2014.
His arrest saw him confess to 39 murders, making him one of the world’s most prolific serial killers.
What caused the young, handsome Brazilian to be gripped by such evil?
Growing up in the city of Goiania, 200 miles from the country’s capital Brasilia, Rocha was known as a quiet boy with few friends.
Raised by his mother and grandparents, he grew up with a brother. He never met his father and describes his childhood as quite ordinary.
But at the age of 11, that all changed.
This, Rocha claims, is when he was sexually abused by a neighbour, planting the seed of self-hatred and igniting an anger so fierce it would eventually consume him.
‘It was for about a month. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone,’ Rocha said later. ‘After that, I felt like I was nothing. I felt the anger growing in me from that moment on.’
At school, bullies picked up on Rocha’s quiet nature, which he says contributed towards his mental and physical aggression.
Despite this, he went on to graduate from high school and gain employment within a private security firm.
Religion was also important to him, and he attended services at church regularly.
It was here he met his fiancee, a beautiful woman with long, dark hair.
But while Rocha may have seemed happy on the outside, he drank to hide his inner pain. Until things reached a head…
‘When I was 22, I couldn’t stop myself anymore. It was like I had to do it,’ Rocha explained.
Speaking of ‘a great anger’ that burned from within, Rocha said killing was the only way to get it out of his system.
First, he targeted gay men, picking them up under the pretence of having sex before choking them to death.
Then, he moved on to homeless people, who were shot, and prostitutes, who were stabbed.
‘Nobody would miss them,’ Rocha brazenly bragged to police.
But it was December 2013 when Rocha really ramped things up.
After spending four months working as a night security guard at a hospital, he stole a .38-caliber revolver from work.
He then mounted his motorbike, dressed in head-to-toe black, in search of the first young, female victim in what was to become a nine-month killing spree.
That victim was 15-year-old Ana Karla Lemes da Silva, shot in the chest as she walked down the street.
Rocha then went on to execute a further 14 young women and girls in drive-by shootings, choosing victims at random as they went about their day-to-day lives.
These included 14-year-old Barbara Costa, shot as she waited for her grandmother, and Beatriz Moura, 23, killed the very next day.
As the number of victims mounted, families staged demonstrations, putting pressure on police to catch the killer.
Dressed in white, they carried photographs of their lost loved ones, gunned down for no reason.
Finally, in October 2014, police swooped when Rocha was caught riding his motorbike with fake licence plates.
On his arrest, the murder weapon was seized from the home he shared with his mum.
At the station, Rocha stunned cops by confessing to a total of 39 murders – 22 of which were women, 17 men – and admitted there may even be more.
‘There could be 41 or so. I can’t really remember,’ he said.
Coldly referring to his victims as numbers, rather than by name, Rocha’s hatred of women quickly became clear.
During police questioning, Rocha would shut down in the presence of a female officer, and told how past rejection meant he directed part of his anger towards women.
‘He’s extremely uncomfortable around women,’ Detective Eduardo Prado confirmed.
He also told how Rocha’s vanity caused him to ask for a comb to fix his hair before the interview.
‘He wants to look good for the photos,’ Detective Prado said.
Later, an anonymous ex lover revealed that after she ended their relationship, Rocha would walk into the house without being invited.
‘He would shout and swear, slam the door and keep looking over at us with a face contorted with rage,’ she reported.
Rocha’s fiancee was also likened to the victims, who bore a striking similarity to each other, with their long, dark hair.
One survivor even claimed Rocha shouted, ‘Tell me I’m beautiful!’ before headbutting her and firing four shots. Luckily, she was only struck once, in the foot.
Yet despite all this, Rocha appeared to regret his actions.
Asked how he felt when he pulled the trigger, he said, ‘My mind went blank, but I would cry later.’
On 16 October 2014, Rocha attempted suicide in his prison cell by slashing his wrists with a smashed lightbulb.
‘I want to ask forgiveness,’ he said from his cell. ‘If I have a disease, I’d like to know what it is, and also if there’s a cure.’
Then, turning to religion, he stated, ‘Only God knows what’s inside me. Only he can judge me.’
Throughout last year, Rocha stood trial 26 times at the Goias State Court of Justice, where he has so far been convicted of 24 counts of murder, along with robbery and illegal possession of a weapon.
On 12 December, Tiago Gomes da Rocha, now 28, was given a combined sentence of 564 years and four months in prison.
Yet despite his pleas for forgiveness, he goes on to claim, ‘In a way, I’m a victim here, too.’
A final insult to the families of those he murdered in cold blood.