9 SURVIVAL LESSONS From a Serial Killer MANHUNT
by Fabian Ommar
During the last three weeks, a dramatic manhunt galvanized the attention of the population and the media in Brazil. As I write this, the fugitive is still on the run, eluding a powerful team of 200-plus police agents and officials, equipped with drones, helicopters, and more.
People here are dazzled and somewhat surprised by the individual’s ability to evade such an overpowering and numerous force for almost a month. However, most, including some experts I spoke with, seem not to recognize some subtle yet relevant aspects of the case, which is what I’ll try to bring to the fore here.
The fugitive is a 32-year-old rural ex-worker who entered crime (allegedly) in 2009 by attacking families in semi-remote areas and farmland around the country’s capital of Federal District, in Brazil’s central plains. He’s been found guilty of similar attacks in other states too. The guy has been in and out of jail countless times thanks to legal loopholes and inefficiencies of the justice and prison systems (and partly by his own means). His record is long with multiple crimes: carjacks, hijacks, robberies, torture, rapes, and murders.
He’s been called a “serial killer,” but he’s just a ruthless thief and a violent psychopath. He’s also very skilled and cunning. Like most sociopaths and psychopaths, he can change, lie and play roles to fool people relatively efficiently. Unfortunately, he’s also charismatic, thus manipulating others in various manners to attain his objectives. It’s a terrible combination of bad character, magnetic personality, and sick psychology. Even when not openly evil as this guy, a person like that is very dangerous.
I say that because when someone is that bad and bold, it tends to come to the surface. If law and order are functional, society can deal with it. Often, these malevolent individuals are captured and brought to justice or killed in action, usually not before causing pain and suffering. Think of the many others like him that exist out there who are somewhat restrained by civilization. Now try to imagine how it would be if the system were not as functional. But, unfortunately, that’s what happens in near, mid, and full SHTF.
Many credit the fugitive’s success exclusively to authority incompetence
There has been a lot of speculation about the case as it unfolds, too. Some say he’s vanished and is already far from the search grounds. Others say he’s injured and will be captured soon. It’s even been hypothesized he’s already dead, his body lying in a ditch or cave somewhere waiting to be found (or not). All of which are plausible. Meanwhile, the manhunt goes on full-steam, with the population is terrified and in panic.
And there’s more: it’s 2021, and a public safety issue has been contaminated by political debate. Everyone is highly divided and radicalized about pretty much everything. Then, amid flaring protests, the president and his dog were thrown into the discussion as the opposition tried to gain momentum. This craziness and mass hysteria is typical of the times we’re living.
Going one or two steps further
Slightly beyond the obvious and immediate, this incident contains some particularities and even a few lessons. Most people around here see only another case of a dangerous criminal on the run. They get trapped between terror, the spectacle of the hunt, and anxiety augmented by the fear-mongering sensationalism of the press.
As always, I try to take something from situations like these. It may seem like another mundane, everyday crime occurrence. And objectively, that’s what it is – at least on the surface. Episodes like these happen all the time, everywhere. But occasionally, we have an opportunity to bypass the pointless and unproductive political debate and look deeper, perhaps extracting a few practical preparedness and survival lessons – or life lessons in general.
Lesson #1: An unarmed population is hostage to criminality
Back in 2003, the liberal government that ruled from 2002 until 2016 issued a decree that in practice turned illegal the commerce and possession of firearms by the population. The Disarmament Statute backlashed and caused a tremendous civic and political debate. So Brazil’s Congress approved a referendum in 2005 to let the people decide for or against guns.
Thanks to a well-engineered propaganda and voting strategy, the population got duped. As a result, the anti-gun decree was passed, and strict restrictions for purchase, ownership, and concealed carry of firearms were put in place. Since 2018 the right-wing government has been trying to overturn this and make it easier for the population to arm themselves.
Advancements have been made, but it’s still a red-tape nightmare to be granted a license, then another to purchase a firearm legally. Everything is tightly controlled. Usually, the whole process of countless forms and a hefty investment takes between a year or two. (An entire industry of agents sell services to deal with the stupid bureaucracy) Finally, to make things even harder for the ordinary, honest citizen, guns and ammo are taxed at 60%.
In places where guns are prohibited, people are helpless
The only instance in which the fugitive wasn’t able to invade a property (and probably kill everyone while at it) was the case in which the homeowner had an old double-barrel shotgun and fought back bravely. The criminal fled, presumably to look for easier prey. If this doesn’t evidence that having some teeth to show can prove an effective deterrent against a criminal threat, I don’t know what does.
Obviously, crime happens in countries and places where firearms are not only allowed, but commonplace. Criminality is a complex issue. But it happens a lot worse where the only ones with ample and easy access to guns are the criminals. The population can’t count on the state and the police to protect them because prevention hasn’t been a state policy for some time now (and not just here, but in many other countries as well). Daisy has written previously about why preppers need guns, and this case seems to back up her argument.
It’s an old debate, and I’m not here to enter the merits. But, being pro-gun and a practicing shooter myself, I’d hazard a guess that if a more significant portion of that population were armed and prepared, he’d at least be in a much harder predicament. Certainly, this escape attempt would be much riskier for him. Count your blessings if you live in a country that allows firearms, and keep fighting for that right. Or else, you know what awaits.
Lesson #2: No one is safe, not in the city and certainly not in rural areas
We’re always talking about the safety of rural areas when it comes to SHTF, but the fact is it’s an ample concept: “rural areas” are diverse, so it’s essential to make some distinctions. Smaller towns in rural settings tend to be safer indeed, among other things, because people know each other better, and there’s usually a stronger sense of community. But distant rural properties, like farms, plantations, and remote locations generally present some challenges when it comes to safety and defense.
Either way, safety is an illusion. The world is inherently dangerous. Even countries and places deemed safe and civilized can see violence in the form of crime, terror, mass shooting, or something else. Sociopaths, psychopaths, predators, and people with bad intentions exist everywhere. Even someone able to bank an army of private security guards three-turns can be a victim. Depending on the situation, from their own people, as we’ve seen here in many instances when someone from inside turns to criminality and against wealthy families for profit.
There are no warranties in life, but that is not what it’s about. The system – the police, the law, the justice – exists to keep the social order, not warrant safety and protection to the individuals. Not anymore. We must work on ourselves and our safeguards, our senses, our awareness, and our abilities.
Lesson #3: It doesn’t take a big group or gang to terrorize the population of an area
The Preppersphere has a fetish for gangs of marauders and psychopaths roaming and ruling (or wreaking havoc) after SHTF. We know that happens from real-life stories from Selco and others. Once law and order break down, it’s a green light for the sick-minded and evil people. But during normal times (i.e., everything but a full-scale SHTF), even a single man with some skills, terrain knowledge, boldness, and malice can terrorize an entire area or state and put the authorities against the authorities’ wall (at least for some time).
During the last few days, many in the region abandoned their properties in fear. An entire family is currently camping at the front of a Police District. Some neighbors are moving together. That’s collective panic caused by the actions of a single individual. And also by the inability of the population to defend themselves, as mentioned in Lesson #1.
Criminals do gang up. Charismatic psychopaths like this bloke can manipulate and mobilize others. Even now, people are rooting for him, as crazy and sick as this sounds. But they can act alone and wreak havoc all the same. I’m sure that if the SHTF and order broke down, he’d be the leader or part of some dangerous and violent gang. What’s worth keeping in mind is there are many like him out there, so we better watch out.
Lesson 4#: Knowing your area or neighborhood is an excellent advantage for survival
Discount the fact that he’s a criminal and only look at the survival aspect. Thanks in significant part to a deep knowledge of his habitat, he’s been able to not only escape for weeks but move around without being noticed and acquire resources. He knows the landmarks, the terrain, the roads, the people, the vegetation, the wildlife, the resources, the climate.
He could probably do well in different settings. The authorities and some experts acknowledge he’s intelligent and cunning, and he’s proved that before in other circumstances. I agree with that. Although I doubt he’d be as successful if he had to deal with such a manhunt in an area other than his backyard.
I’m not saying all that to underscore nor to downplay the fugitive’s abilities. I am acknowledging the fact that knowing where to go (or avoid) and what to do makes a difference in survival regardless of our settings and our context. That should be the takeaway, our main lesson, for both normal and SHTF times. I talk about this in my book on street survival training.
Lesson #5: Buschcrafting skills are a huge differential in the wilderness, and perhaps even in the city
There have been numerous cases of skilled criminals escaping police for months or even years in the wilderness. That is nothing new but shows that some are truly prepared to survive in the woods for long periods.
It’s not just about knowing how to find or build shelter, start fires, forage, and the like. It’s being able to navigate the terrain efficiently and safely, detecting and avoiding threats and dangers (natural and man-made), moving around without drawing attention or leaving traces, being capable of rest and replenishment while remaining in safety or hide. And more.
This guy is going against his chasers and some dangerous animals that are abundant in that environment (poisonous snakes, wild boars, jaguars, and others), weather variations (cold nights and hot days), and much more. There’s speculation that he might have been hurt (which is likely given the circumstances), so he probably has to care for wounds.
Ordinary people (a.k.a. urban dwellers) wouldn’t stand a chance. If not captured shortly, most would give up – or die. But (and this might strike some nerves), I suspect this guy would still fare considerably better than urbanites in a big city under most circumstances. Though at first thought this may seem to have little to do with wilderness skills, I’d argue it does. Again, this is not to distinguish the criminal’s behavior but rather to highlight a specific skillset and its usefulness in some contexts.
Lesson #6: Takes a hunter to hunt down another
In lessons #3 and #4, we saw a few whys and hows he’s been able to escape a significantly numerous police force and remain alive. To track, find and capture someone so skilled in outdoor survival, it’s necessary for someone with similar qualities and equivalent local knowledge to help the good guys.
That seems to have escaped the authorities somehow. It bewilders me that the task forces are still over-reliant on just numbers and technology or military supremacy to bring him down. They might come steps away and still not see him because they may not know what to look for and how to look at things. Ask any hunter or experienced buschcrafters about this. Snipers have some particular skills that go way beyond regular training.
Lesson #7: Survival can become a war of attrition
It’s been declared that they’re trying to wear him down. OK, that’s a sensible strategy. However, it doesn’t seem that way to me. I admit not being acquainted with all the details so let’s accept this possibility. Regardless, as time passes, the population is becoming more frightened, and authorities more discredited. Pressure is increasing from all sides to find and put the dangerous criminal out of action.
Everything has two sides (at least) and many consequences. There’s no way to know for sure how things are on the fugitive’s side. But morale is eroding among troops, and this counts. The odds are against the guy, but being skilled, resilient, and determined means time can also work in his favor, especially if he can rest, replenish and adapt further.
He can also evade the area indefinitely. Though he has his face all over the country and in the news, he can change appearance, lay low for some time, find a company, a job, anything. There’s no way to know how this will play out, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Lesson #8: Self-defense requires preparation and strategy
Most people attacked or who bugged out had no plan, strategy, or preparation against such dangerous and cunning criminals. This kind of mentality and behavior makes things much easier for wrongdoers and outlaws and a lot more hazardous for honest, law-abiding citizens and their families. I’m not saying this is right or that it should be like that, but it’s the reality.
Rural or urban. Remote or dense. House or apartment. Suburb or downtown. Vast, open, woody, mountainous, whatever. Each setting and context requires a different strategy for self-defense. It can’t be an afterthought or improvisation. No matter if it’s something simple or elaborate. There must be a plan in place, and execution, and tests. It’s not just about weapons either, as many think.
I must point out many of these people are simple folks who lead an arduous life of labor and hardship in a challenging environment. They already have a lot on their hands and backs and in their heads. I mentioned in #1 the hurdles to getting armed around here, too, making things even more difficult. But self-defense is critical and can’t be neglected.
There’s always a way. For example, joining forces and forming a stronger community with some shared measures and countermeasures regarding communication, weapons, detection, etc. It’s vital to give the problem at least some thought and consideration. Either way, this is a rather complex topic, enough for more than one or even two articles. For now, let’s just bring this to attention, another lesson to be taken from this sad episode.
Lesson #9: Radicalism and hysteria can lead to social breakdown
When things are crazy, all kinds of people start losing it. Sometimes it’s swift and evident. Other times it’s slow and subtle. Remember: the system is the people. Adding 2 + 2, we reach a dangerous point: creating and raising a context ripe for excesses, which can come from those who should abide by the law and those responsible for defending and enforcing it.
It’s important to pay attention to signals that things are going bad. I mentioned some people are rooting for the maniac. I also mentioned the moral of authorities wearing thin after unsuccessfully chasing down an individual for over three weeks. Now, granted, most of society is against crime and for order and justice. Simultaneously, we’re living in an authority crisis, and police are being seen as violent and anti-social by some sectors.
This messy combination has already made a victim: a guy who allegedly posted praising messages about the fugitive on social media was shot by the police – while at home. The details have yet to be disclosed and the facts clarified. Besides being perplexing and highly objectionable in itself, taken as a whole, these things signal a withering of the social contract.
Unfortunately, this takes place in other instances as well presenting challenges we must be aware of and prepared for. What are your thoughts on the manhunt in Brazil? Have you experienced something similar in your area? If so, how did it affect your fellow citizens? Did you notice neighbors taking sides or any signs of unrest? Let’s talk in the comment section below.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor