Peter R. de Vries, a renowned Dutch journalist who fearlessly covered the violent Netherlands underworld and campaigned to breathe new life into cold cases, has died aged 64 after being shot while from a brazen attack last week, his family said Thursday.
“Peter fought to the end, but couldn’t win the battle,” the family said in a statement to Dutch media.
While the motive for the De Vries shooting remains unknown, the July 6 attack on an Amsterdam street had the characteristics of gang shots taking place with increasing regularity in the Dutch underworld covered by the journalist.
Two suspects were arrested. Dutch police said the suspected gunman was a 21-year-old Dutchman and a 35-year-old Pole living in the Netherlands was accused of driving the getaway car. They were arrested shortly after De Vries’ injury.
De Vries quickly rose from being a young reporter to being the Netherlands’ most famous journalist. He was a pillar of support for families of killed and missing children, an activist against injustice and a thorn in the side of gangsters.
“Peter lived by his belief: ‘Kneeling is no way to be free,'” the family statement read. “We are incredibly proud of him and at the same time inconsolable.”
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De Vries had been fighting for his life in an Amsterdam hospital since the attack. The statement said he died surrounded by his relatives and requested confidentiality from De Vries’ family and partner “to process his death in peace”. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
The shooting happened after De Vries made one of his regular appearances on a current affairs TV show. He had recently been an advisor and confidant to a witness in the trial of the alleged leader and other members of a criminal gang whom police described as an “oiled up killing machine”.
The alleged gang leader, Ridouan Taghi, was extradited to the Netherlands from Dubai in 2019. He remains in jail while on trial along with 16 other suspects.
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Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte led the tributes to De Vries in the Netherlands.
“Peter R. de Vries has always been dedicated, tenacious, fearful of nothing and no one. Always in search of the truth and in defense of justice,” Rutte said in a tweet. “And that makes it all the more dramatic that he himself is now the victim of a great injustice.”
Dutch King Willem Alexander last week called the De Vries shooting an “attack on journalism, the cornerstone of our rule of law and therefore also an attack on the rule of law”.
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The murder also struck a chord elsewhere in Europe, where murders of journalists are rare. The murders of journalists in Slovakia and Malta in recent years have raised concerns about the safety of journalists in developed democratic societies.
In a tweet, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “deeply saddened by the news of the death of Peter R. de Vries. I would like to express my condolences to his family and loved ones “.
She added: “Investigative journalists are vital to our democracies. We must do all we can to protect them.
De Vries won an International Emmy in 2008 for a television show he directed about the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway while on vacation in the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba in 2005.
In 2018, while acting as a spokesperson for the family of an 11-year-old boy who was abused and killed in 1998, De Vries sought advice on the fate of a suspect identified in a probe DNA.
“I can’t live with the idea that he won’t be arrested,” De Vries said during a plea for help at a televised press conference. “I will not rest until this happens.”
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The suspect was arrested a few weeks later in Spain and sentenced last year for the death of the boy, Nicky Verstappen.
De Vries ‘commentary on the suspect in Nicky’s murder summed up the tenacity that has been the cornerstone of a career that has seen him report some of the Netherlands’ most notorious crimes, including the 1983 kidnapping from beer mogul Freddy Heineken.
Acting on a pipe, De Vries tracked down one of the kidnappers in Paraguay in 1994.
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He befriended another of the kidnappers, Cor van Hout, who was later shot dead in Amsterdam. Another of the kidnappers, Willem Holleeder, who was van Hout’s brother-in-law, was convicted in 2019 of inciting the murder of van Hout and four other people. Holleeder was sentenced to life imprisonment.
De Vries was also known for campaigning tenaciously to uncover the truth behind the 1994 murder of 23-year-old Christel Ambrosius. Two men from the town where she was killed were convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but De Vries refused to believe they were guilty.
They were acquitted in 2002, and in 2008 another man was convicted of murdering Ambrosius.
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Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus issued a statement calling De Vries “a brave man who lived without compromise. He would not be intimidated by criminals”.
Grapperhaus said he “has stalked injustice throughout his life. In doing so, he has made a huge contribution to our democratic state. He was part of its foundation.”
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