Unbelievably violent weekend – 9 persons killed in 4 days
SWALLOW CAYE, Belize District, Mon. June 24, 2019– This weekend has been one of the most brutal and bloody in Belize’s history. Eight men and a woman were murdered in four separate incidents; five were shot to death, apparently on Swallow Caye, a popular fishing area about 3 miles off the coast of Belize City; two more were shot to death in a fishing boat near San Pedro; one man was savagely murdered in a house in Corozal Town, and a woman was stabbed to death by another woman in San Ignacio.
Five men left on a fishing trip to Swallow Caye on Tuesday morning, June 18. They were Ernest Wills, Sr., 49, of Belize City, who was captain of the boat; Travis Cooke, 23, a laborer of Belize City; Allison Jones, 19; Jamar Martinez, 23; and Winston Santos, 40, a fisherman of Belize City. Their camp was on the island.
The first body found was that of Travis Cooke. Assistant Superintendent of Police, Alejandro Cowo, said that at about 5:30 Thursday evening, they were informed that a body was seen floating in the sea. They went to Swallow Caye, where they saw the body in the water, and it was already in a state of decomposition. The body was brought to Belize City, where it was identified to be that of Travis Cooke 23, of Belize City. He had been shot in the head.
Cooke was buried later that same Thursday night after an autopsy was conducted.
ASP Cowo said that at about 6:30 on Friday morning, they were called to Brighton Beach, also known as the “Old College” area, where they saw a man floating near the shore, and the body was also in a state of decomposition. The man was identified as Ernest Wills, 49, a boat captain, and he had been shot in the forehead.
That same Friday morning after Wills was found, Winston Santos, 40, a fisherman of Belize City, was found floating in the sea off Swallow Caye. He had been shot in the back.
On, Saturday evening, police and Coast Guard officers found the bodies of Allison Jones, 19, and Jamar Martinez, 23, floating near Mapp Caye, which is not far from Swallow Caye. Their hands had been tied behind their backs and they both had been shot in the head.
All five men were found in a state of decomposition. The Coast Guard said that the boat was found in the Swallow Caye area, and it was intact. There was no indication that anything violent had taken place in the boat. Coast Guard Commander Gregory Soberanis said that the boat is now with the Coast Guard and being held at the Coast Guard headquarters, pending inspection by the National Forensic Science lab for any clues that may help the investigation.
Police said that after interviews with family members, they learned that Wills, the boat captain, and the four men went on a fishing trip to Swallow Caye on Tuesday and were to have returned on Friday. They went to set traps for lobster and to do some fishing.
It is not known what happened on the island, but it is believed that pirates of the sea assembled the five fishermen, executed them and threw their bodies into the sea.
Erica Wills, Ernest Wills’ daughter, said that her father was an innocent man whose passion was fishing. He had just come in on Saturday and on Tuesday, and later returned to sea to fish and to catch lobsters.
She said that her father was not a man of violence, and those who killed him killed a father who has four children and one grandson. It was Erica who identified him, and it was devastating for her to see her father in that state. He had been a fisherman all her life, she said, and she and his family are at a loss for a reason why he was murdered.
In a conversation with us today, Wills’ wife said that he was at home on Sunday and Monday, and on Monday evening, a friend of his went to see him and requested that they go to sea on Tuesday morning. She said that Wills does not have a boat, so he went to hire a boat for the trip on Tuesday morning.
When his friend and the other three men came, Wills showed some concern and she thought that he would have backed down and would not have gone, but the five of them left for Swallow Caye.
She said that throughout the day on Tuesday and throughout the night, nothing was heard from Wills, but at about 6:00 Wednesday morning, he called her. However, she missed the call because she was dealing with the ducks in her yard and when she called him back, there was no answer, and his phone went to voicemail.
Throughout Wednesday, she tried to reach her husband by phone, but to no avail. She believes that her husband and his companions were murdered shortly after 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday. She is also clueless as to why he was killed, because he was friendly and popular.
We went to the home of Winston Santos on Mopan Street, but his grieving family did not wish to grant us an interview.
During the police press brief held this morning at the Raccoon Street Police Station, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams strongly denounced the brutal murders. He said that all would be done to crack the case and bring some justice and closure to the families.
He said that the case would be investigated by two teams of investigators led by two senior officers. The Swallow Caye murders investigation team will be led by Senior Superintendent Hilberto Romero, and the second team assigned to investigate the double murder in San Pedro will be placed under the command of Assistant Police Commissioner, Joseph Myvett.
ComPol Williams said that police have now collaborated with the Coast Guard to conduct patrols regularly at sea, to give the sea workers some form of safety.
Compol Williams said that ‘wetdrops” are usually carried out at sea by drug traffickers, and after such activities, murders take place. The murders are carried out by spotters used by the drug traffickers to ensure that all the drugs are collected and accounted for.
People usually go in the area, said Williams, to collect drugs that may have drifted away, in the hope of finding it, and selling the drugs, but the ComPol warns that this is a very dangerous thing to do, because those involved in the drug trade are brutal.
The Compol also urged members of the public who see drugs on the beach, or elsewhere, to call the police. He also warned those who might be in possession of cash to not post such information on social media, because persons with criminal intent might be monitoring such posts, and could pose a threat to anyone with money or valuables.
Also present at the police press brief this morning was Lieutenant Commander Gregory Soberanis, of the Coast Guard. Commander Soberanis said that the operation strategies of the Coast Guard change frequently, but the safety of fishermen at sea is a priority. He said that in view of the murders in Swallow Cay, there is now a collaboration between the Coast Guard and police to conduct frequent patrols in the area and to be visible in the area.
Four other murders occurred outside Belize City: San Pedro resident David Martinez, 23, was shot multiple times in his head and body by one of two unknown, masked men, who ran away after shooting him at about 8:30 Friday night in a yard on San Andres Road in Corozal Town.
ACP Joseph Myvett said that while Martinez was socializing in the yard, two men wearing cloth on their faces came out of the bushes and fired 8 shots at Martinez and his two friends. Martinez was hit multiple times, and the two men ran into the bushes and escaped.
Martinez also tried to run, but fell. He was taken to the Corozal Community Hospital, but was declared dead on arrival.
Police said that Martinez is not known to them, and the motive for his death is not known. Some men have been detained for questioning.
The other two murders occurred at about 10:00 Sunday morning. Mario Graniel, Jr., 53, a tour guide of San Pedro, and American national Gary Paul Swank, a tourist visiting San Pedro, were doing fly fishing in the San Pedro lagoon when a boat drove up to them and a man fired at them, hitting Graniel and Swank multiple times.
The boat then sped away.
Police said that at about 11:00 Sunday morning, they were informed about the shooting in the lagoon behind San Pedro by people in the area who became alarmed by the gunshots and went to the area, about one mile north of San Pedro.
There, they saw a boat, JOHNNY G, in which Mario Graniel was lying, with multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, abdomen and leg. He was already dead.
About fifteen feet away from the boat, they saw Paul Swank’s body floating facedown in the water, also with multiple gunshots to his head and body. He was also dead.
Police rushed the two men to the San Pedro Polyclinic, where they were both officially declared dead on arrival.
The motive for the shooting death of the tour guide and his guest is not known. During the police press brief this morning, Commissioner of Police Chester Willliams told us that last week, shots were fired at Graniel’s house in the San Pedrito area of San Pedro.
The shooting at Graniel’s house took place after he was involved in an altercation with a known gang member in San Pedro, said police.
Compol Williams said that police took action and conducted patrols by his house. They were waiting for him to go to the police station to make a report, but he did not do so, Williams said, adding that they could not follow him around because he was not a prisoner and on Sunday morning, he took out a boat and went on a tour with a tourist, and was murdered.
The United States Embassy in Belmopan has been informed of the death of the United States national, and arrangements will be made through the Embassy to take back the body of Paul Swank to the United States for burial in his hometown.
According to a report today on WBDJ News of Roanoke, USA, Dr. Gary Paul Swank, who was found murdered in Belize, was an interventional cardiologist, a medical director of Carilion Clinic’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab and an associate professor of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke.
According to a Carilion Clinic statement, “Dr. Swank was a well-respected and well-loved colleague who, each and every day, embodied the values that we hold dear.”
Colleagues of Dr. Swank told WDBJ7 that Swank loved to fish, and he was vacationing with his wife and three children in Belize.
The ninth murder occurred at about 8:30 Sunday night, in the new area of Bullet Tree Falls, San Ignacio, Cayo District. Yolanda Requeña, 47, a janitor, was stabbed to death by the wife of a man with whom she had been speaking. Police are looking for the woman.
Reliable information to us is that Requeña and the man were in a yard conversing when the wife came in and an altercation erupted between them because of jealousy, and the wife, who was armed with a knife, stabbed Requeña, then she walked out of the yard and disappeared.
As at press time tonight, the wife has not been found.