Monica Spear, a 29-year-old former Miss Venezuela who lived in Orlando and retains close ties to the area, was gunned down along with her ex-husband while vacationing in the South American country.
Spear and her ex-husband, Henry Berry, 39, died late Monday in an attempted robbery on the highway between Puerto Cabello and Valencia in central Venezuela.
Spear, who graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2004 with a bachelor of arts in theater, was also a well-known soap-opera actress.
"It is the deepest pain, the deepest pain. It is unbelievable," her father, Rafael, told the Orlando Sentinel at his east Orange County home Tuesday as 10 members of the extended family waited to fly by private jet to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. "This is a great loss for us. She was very charismatic, a very good daughter, a very good mother, and she loved Venezuela."
Spear's 5-year-old daughter, Maya, survived the attack late Monday, with a bullet wound in her leg. She underwent surgery Tuesday morning, according to the family.
"Monica was very special," her aunt, Petra Spear, said. "And we loved her as [much as] she loved Venezuela."
Spear, who won the Miss Venezuela title in 2004 and was fourth runner-up for Miss Universe in 2005, was a nationally recognized star with homes in Venezuela and Miami. At the time of the attack, she and Berry were driving back to Caracas with Maya after vacationing in the tropical-grassland plains of southwest Venezuela, her family said.
Video of the crime scene showed Spear's car had been hit repeatedly by the killers' gunfire -- a common occurrence on roads after dark in one of the world's most violent nations. Venezuela's homicide rate in 2012 was reported at 73 per 100,000 inhabitants, among the highest in the world. That was about 22,000 killings, according to figures quoted on a U.S. Department of State travel advisory.
President Nicolas Maduro has said defeating violent crime is his No. 1 priority.
In an interview with The Huffington Post several months ago, Spear said she decided to leave Venezuela and move with her daughter to Miami because of the violence in her country.
Marytza Sanz, president of the Orlando-based Latino Leadership, is a close friend of the Spear family.
"Actually, I do remember when our organization was located on Herndon Avenue, Monica, who just got the title of Miss Venezuela, visited us and shared some time with all of us," Sanz said.
"She loved her country. She could have stayed here in the States, but she wanted her daughter to spend time and learn about Venezuela. You can easily [fall] in love with Venezuela through Monica. She was an outstanding daughter, sister, mother. It is extremely frustrating to see what happened."
Telemundo Networks, for which Spear starred, described the impact of her death as devastating.
"Monica was not only a great actress, as she proved it as part of the cast of the telenovelas Flor Salvaje and Pasion Prohibida, but also a great person, very enthusiastic, with an extraordinary drive and determination," the network said in a statement. "We extend our condolences to her family and wish a quick recovery to her daughter."
UCF said in an October 2004 profile that Spear crammed two years of classes into one so she could graduate in time to compete in the Miss Venezuela pageant. Fluent in Spanish, English and French, Spear enrolled at UCF in fall 2003 after receiving her associate degree the previous May from what was then Seminole Community College, where she graduated with honors.
Originally a chemical-engineering major, Spear switched to theater after a lengthy talk about the future with her dad, a project engineer at Siemens Westinghouse.
"I told her she had to decide what she wanted to do to be happy for the rest of her life," Rafael Spear said. "When my children were young, I wouldn't let them watch telenovelas, and then she began acting in soap operas, and I began watching all of hers."
Three of Spear's four siblings, Carolina, Javier and Ricardo, also graduated from UCF.
The Spear family moved to the U.S. in 2000. Rafael Spear took a job in Orlando after his wife, Ingrid, retired from an oil company in Venezuela. The Miss Venezuela pageant was the first beauty pageant their daughter entered.
"All the young girls want to be Miss Venezuela. It is an honor unlike anything in the U.S.," her father said. "The whole country is really upset because of the circumstances of her death. And jointly express their condolences to us."
Staff writers Susan Jacobson and Adriana Collado contributed to this report, along with wire services.
Original headline: Monica Spear: UCF grad, former Miss Venezuela killed by armed robbers in Venezuela
Most Popular Stories
- Pickup Discounts Boost September Auto Sales
- Dallas Parents Fear Students Exposed to Ebola
- Review: Pay by Phone or Just Keep Using Plastic?
- Kurdish Militia Still Lack Weapons, Training
- N.Y. Ups Awards of State Contracts to Minorities
- Ebola Victim Was Sent Home by Dallas Hospital
- Lexus Luxury Compact Sedan Wins Buyers
- Group Offers Online Help for College Students
- What to Look for in Mich. Jobs Market
- Why the Bond Market Isn't as Safe as You Think