RIO DE JANEIRO — Leandro Lo, one of the world’s best jujitsu fighters and an eight-time world champion, was fatally shot in the head in a São Paulo club early Sunday morning, authorities said, shocking the sports community and drawing displays of mourning from across the country that invented and popularized Brazilian jujitsu.
An off-duty police officer suspected of involvement in the shooting turned himself in to authorities Sunday afternoon, though police declined to provide many additional details Monday morning.
Brazilian media, citing Lo’s attorney, reported that there had been an altercation at posh Clube Sírio. A man approached Lo’s circle of friends, attorney Ivã Siqueira Junior told Folha de São Paulo, and tried to provoke the group. He picked up a bottle from their table and wouldn’t return it. The lawyer said Lo knocked the man down.
Once on his feet again, the man “took four steps back,” one witness told national television program “Fantástico,” speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He took out a gun from his waist and shot him in the head at point blank,” the witness said.
Authorities issued an arrest warrant for military police officer Henrique Otávio Oliveira Velozo on suspicion of involvement in the shooting. Outside the precinct, fans and supporters of Lo yelled “Killer!” and “Vagabond!” when the officer arrived Sunday.
Lo, 33, dominated the martial art for the past decade and had been scheduled to compete in another tournament this week in Austin. His funeral was expected to take place Monday in his native São Paulo.
His death served as another grim reminder of the gun violence epidemic that continues to grip Latin America’s largest country and kills tens of thousands every year.
“Lo was one of the greatest athletes our sport has ever produced,” the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation said in a statement. “Lo’s global influence, passion and dedication to Jiu-Jitsu will forever be remembered and honored for the great champion and person he was.”
His mother, Fatima Lo, posted on Instagram a drawing of him climbing up into the sky, clad in his jujitsu uniform.
“I will miss you so much,” she wrote. “A piece of me is missing.”
Lo was considered one of the most gifted fighters to have competed in the sport. The son of a boxer in São Paulo, he knew early that he wanted to be a fighter. His initial aspiration, however, was not to compete but to defend himself while growing up in a dangerous city, according to Folha.
“In the street, in school, you’re always going to be scared of the bigger kids,” Lo said in one YouTube video. “So I said, ‘If I’m going to fight, then I’m going to know how to defend myself.’ ”
He was introduced to jujitsu through a social program, Fighting for God, whose mission is to provide needy kids with structure and guidance through the martial art, and before long he was ascending to the upper echelons of competition. He eventually became the world’s best in five jujitsu categories and was named world champion eight times.
“The biggest among us,” said Unity Jiu-Jitsu School in New York City. “The most beloved, the biggest warrior, the nicest person.”