RIO DE JANEIRO -- The news of a second decapitation this year in Brazil has raised questions about whether such heinous crimes may deter foreign visitors considering a trip for next summer's FIFA World Cup.
João Rodrigo Silva Santos, a former Brazilian professional soccer player, was kidnapped and brutally decapitated this week in the city's West Zone. His wife, Geísa Silva, an officer in one of Rio's Police Pacification Units (UPP), found his head in a backpack left on their front door step in the early hours of the morning.
Less than four months ago, details of another gruesome decapitation made international headlines. In the rural interior of Brazil's northeastern region, a referee at an amateur soccer game was decapitated by angry spectators after he stabbed a player who refused to leave the field. The player died on the way to the hospital.
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The violent crimes come as the country prepares to host two global sporting events: the World Cup in June and the 2016 Summer Olympics. But Brazilians don't view the cases as a reason for visitors to stay away.
"Unfortunately that kind of bad news is what's transmitted abroad," says Felippe Trindade, a 29-year-old Rio native and soccer fan who lives five blocks from Rio's iconic Maracanã Stadium. "I believe that for foreigners it causes a hugely negative impact."
Violent crimes such as this week's beheading garner significant international media attention, but violence can take on a different nature in other parts of the world, says Bruno Monteiro, 26, who is also a local soccer fan.
"People outside Brazil see news like this and think, 'Whoa look at how they live in Brazil, it's so violent, what a bizarre place to live.' But I have the same thought when I see news about people shooting children in elementary schools."
Monteiro says the stereotype of Brazilians being passionate about soccer is true. He points to two kinds of fans.
"There's Brazilians who miss work for their team, they'll even sell their cars or their refrigerators for their team; to be able to go to the games, travel to different states for their team's games," Monteiro says. "Then there's the other kind of crazy fan - people who fight, they kill people, trap the buses of the rival team... The fans fight between each other a lot."
Rio de Janeiro's soccer fans stand strictly divided among the city's four clubs; all four are considered to be fierce rivals of each other.
But Monteiro says the country stands united when it comes to the Brazilian national team and the World Cup. Brazil has won five World Cup championships, the most of any country although the last was won in 2002.
Tournament organizers expect 600,000 international visitors when the World Cup is held from June 12-July 13 for what's considered the world's largest single-sport competition. The United States has qualified for the tournament, which will hold its final draw in December.
The Rio de Janeiro State Department of Security has reassured potential visitors that their safety will not be threatened, citing a significant decrease in homicides from 73.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in the 1990s to 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.
"Any and all criminal acts are undesirable, and we are working hard with our police force and other government bodies to make these events even less frequent," said Roberto Alzir, the sub-secretary of large events for Rio's State Department of Security.
"We believe that the feeling prevailing through the local population, and also through the many domestic and foreign visitors who visit Rio de Janeiro, is that the sense of security is improving."
Police reports state that Silva Santos, who was a B league professional soccer player, was kidnapped outside the health food store he owns Monday night in Realengo, the lower-middle class neighborhood in Rio's West Zone where the couple resided. His wife filed a missing persons report when he did not return home as expected.
This West Zone is the future home to the 2016 Olympic Park. Silva Santos and his wife lived about 11 miles away from the site where venues for swimming, cycling and other sports are being built for the next Summer Games.
According to the latest reports from Rio's Military Police, the body of Silva Santos was found in a river in Baixada Fluminense, a municipality just north of Rio, about 30 miles from his home. The body was found without a head, arms or legs, and was identified by the victim's family.
Motives for the crime are still unknown to police, but friends and coworkers say neither Silva Santos or his wife had any known enemies or had experienced any threats, according to reports from Globo, Brazil's largest news source.
Initial reports in the news media linked the murder to Geísa Silva's position with the Pacification Police, a sector of Rio de Janeiro State's Military Police that occupies favela neighborhoods in an attempt to drive out drug traffickers. Geísa Silva worked in the favela of São Carlos, where she was involved with social projects with children in the area.
The Civil Police investigation also revealed Silva Santos' store had recently been robbed. He had posted pictures from his surveillance cameras of the criminals on the internet asking for help to identify them.
Trindade, the soccer fan who lives near Rio's Maracanã Stadium, says this week's violent headlines create an inflated image of madness associated with soccer in Brazil.
"It's an unjust image, this violence and craziness for soccer. Brazilians are peaceful and really receptive. I've been going to games at the stadiums since I was a kid. Fights can happen between fans of different teams, but generally it's actually quite calm."
"Crimes in Brazil are more related to poverty than soccer," he says.