Graduation bash turns into nightmare
The bliss that normally accompanies graduation, and the festivities thereafter, was summarily cut short sometime last night when an unidentified gun-wielding man opened fire on a crowd of celebrating students at the Brown Sugar Market Terminal near the Tourist Village in Belize City, injuring four of the partygoers and an unknown man who was shot in the head.
Police reported that upon visiting the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) at about 12:30 in the early hours of this morning, Monday, five persons – several of them students – were observed with gunshot injuries. Willodel Neal, 19, was shot in the abdomen and left leg; Triston Gordon, 22, was shot in the back; Daniel Cain, 26, was shot in the right leg; female student Adelyn Vernon, 21, was shot in the left inner thigh; and a man who at first was unidentified, was shot in the head and back, and is listed in a critical condition.
Today, Amandala spoke to Gilda Diaz, the grandmother of three of the students for whom the party was being held, and she told us that what was supposed to be a momentous occasion for her grandchildren has been marred with memories that will leave her family, especially the children, emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.
She said, “It was a graduation party for my three grandchildren – two granddaughters who were graduating from Pallotti [High School], and a grandson who graduated from Saint John’s College Junior College. The family was happy for their achievements and decided to throw a party, so we chose somewhere different, although we could have had it in our yard. It was the first time I went there and it [the venue] looked secure.
“The incident happened after 11:30 p.m. because we started dishing out turkey dinner at the same time, and everybody was having a good time until someone who had other intentions came – and it seems to have been a group of them, maybe about 5. They went upstairs to where the party was happening, and suddenly this person started shooting at everyone from the patio. It was chaotic, because all the students started running scared, trying to escape.”
Diaz mentioned that the shooter took advantage of the fact that there was no security at the party’s entrance, but since it was just a graduation party for students, they, the family, didn’t feel the need to have police security or other security personnel present at the event.
She described it as a very traumatic experience for those who were involved, especially because the students will remember it for a long time, but Diaz also made an appeal to the family of the unknown shooting victim, whom she subsequently found hemorrhaging from a gunshot wound in the head.
“When the shooting stopped, I went inside the building and realized that a man was there lying on the ground upstairs. When I saw him, he was splattered with blood around the head, so I went over to him and asked him if he’s okay. I asked him to move his hand and he couldn’t; he only groaned, and that’s how I knew that he was still alive, so I started hollering for them to get an ambulance for him. I asked him if he could talk, but he did not answer.”
Diaz said that she did not recognize the young man, but noted that he looked a bit older than the graduating students who had attended the party.
So far, we have not been able to ascertain if the shooting was gang-related, although we were informed that several gang members were present at the function when the shooting took place.
We were told that the shooting may be linked to two earlier shootings, one of which took place early Sunday morning near Newtown Barracks, in which a 16-year-old girl was shot in the chest, and the other, a Saturday night shooting at about 9:50 p.m. on Kut Avenue, in which two men were injured.
By press time tonight, however, the unidentified person found shot in the head at the graduation party had been identified as Kirk “Lenny” Smith, Jr., 22, an affiliate of the George Street gang, who was recently released from prison after being acquitted of the August 15, 2010 murder of Ian Arnold, 35, at Arnold’s home on Berkeley Street.
When Amandala went to the scene this afternoon, a team of top brass police investigators, including the Officer-in-Charge of the Eastern Division Police Formation, ASP Miguel Segura, and the Officer-in- Charge of Precinct 3, Superintendent Alford Grinage, arrived and began processing the area.
According to police, a total of nine 9-millimeter expended shells were retrieved from the area. Police say that their investigations are still ongoing.