Former Venezuelan beauty queen Monica Spear shot dead
A file photo of former Miss Venezuela Monica SpearReuters

Former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and her British ex-husband Thomas Berry have been shot dead by robbers in front of their five-year-old daughter in the Latin American country.

The incident took place on an isolated highway between Valencia and Puerto Cabello.

The assailants are believed to have attacked their car and gunned down the duo – Spear, 29 and Berry, 39 - when they resisted the robbers. At least two tyres of the vehicle were punctured by "a sharp object placed on the highway" as part of the robbery attempt, said authorities.

The couple died of multiple gunshot wounds. Their daughter, Maya Berry Spear, was also injured in the attack but is believed to be in stable condition in hospital.

Spear and Berry were on their way from Merida to the Venezuelan capital Caracas. They were living in the US and were in Venezuela for a holiday.

Police have arrested five men in connection with the attack.

President Nicolas Maduro called the incident a "massacre" and vowed to punish the perpetrators.

"We were evaluating the cruelty with which the suspects acted. Violence is an evil that we have. There will be no tolerance to those who carry out acts like that, killing decent men and women, who have a right to live. I take my responsibility to the maximum," said the socialist leader.

Spear won the Miss Venezuela competition in 2004 before entering into soap operas. She had acted in many soap operas including Flor Salvaje (Savage Flower) and Pasion Prohibida (Forbidden Passion) of the Telemundo network.

The US-based Telemundo said: "We are deeply impacted and saddened by the horrible crime that the beloved actress Monica Spear and her family suffered. Monica was not just a great professional, as she showed in the two soap operas that she worked on with us ... but also she was an excellent person, always enthusiastic and with great strength and determination."

Spear's death has put the spotlight on Venezuela's growing homicide rate. The Latin American country has one of the highest murder rates in the world with 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. The government, however, downplays the figure.