(NBC NEWS)-- A Venezuelan actress and beauty queen was shot to death with her ex-husband during a highway robbery after their car broke down on vacation, police said Tuesday.
Their 5-year-old daughter survived. Monica Spear Mootz, 29, had starring roles in several telenovelas and was Miss Venezuela in 2004. Her former husband was identified as Henry Thomas Berry, 39. Family friends said that although the couple had split up a couple of years ago they remained close and spent vacations and holidays together for their daughter's sake.
"They were a great couple," said Luis Dominguez, who ran an adventure tour company with Berry and spoke to him Sunday while he was on the road. "They were having the greatest time. He said, 'I'll see you soon.'"
Late Monday, they got into a small accident on the Valencia-Puerto Cabello highway that stranded their gray Toyota Corolla. Armed men approached the car and the couple locked themselves inside, police said. The bandits opened fire, injuring the child and killing the parents, police said.
Born in England, Berry moved to Venezuela with his family when he was 7 years old and grew up there. After he was shot about 15 years ago, he moved to Florida, but was too in love with Venezuela to stay away, Dominguez said. After he returned in 2006, he met Spear Mootz and "it was love at first sight," Dominguez said. She got pregnant and they got married. "She was a really happy, outgoing person," Dominguez said. "She didn't need luxury. They only needed each other. She wasn't flashy. She was a beautiful person to be around."
Spear Mootz's parents, who live in Orlando, Fla., were too upset to speak about their daughter, who was a graduate of the University of Central Florida and had American citizenship. After winning the title of Miss Venezuela, the actress appeared in a half-dozen Spanish language soap operas, most recently "Pasion Prohibida" and "Flor Salvaje" on Telemundo.
Former co-star Jencarlos Canela mourned her on Twitter and promised to watch over her daughter. "I'm without words," he wrote. "I will miss my friend @MonicaSpear. And I love you, beautiful Maya. You are not alone!"
The Monday night slayings near Valencia sparked a wave of shocked reaction in Venezuela, where more than 70 people have been killed in the first week of the year. Diego Sanchez, who has known the victims for about six years, said the crime has made him think about leaving Venezuela. "To think there are people who can shoot a mother and father in front of their daughter is very sad and unbelievable," he said. "And it's shocking when it happens to someone you know."
Dominguez said his partner had an adventurous streak and didn't worry that he might be preyed on, even though he had already been shot once before. "I think he was kind of naïve because he loved what he did and he loved showing the good side of Venezuela." NBC News' Erika Angulo and Telemundo's Rogelio Mora Tagle contributed to this report.
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