Headline — 28 December 2012 — by Albert J. Ciego
Record breaking number of murders

We were hoping to report that the Christmas holidays were relatively peaceful and that we have no murders to report, but we learnt early last night that murders take no holiday. A 17-year-old young man was killed in Hopkins last night sometime after 8. Luke Nunez’s death marks the 142nd murder for 2012 – 13 more than the previous record of 129 in 2010. 2012 has certainly been a year to forget, and we still have four more days to go before the year officially ends.

January of 2012 was arguably our most peaceful month, and talks of the peace truce holding resonated everywhere. There were only 4 murders that month. But the number of murders quickly escalated to 10 in February, down to 8 in March, before almost tripling in April, the deadliest month of the year.

21 persons were murdered in April, including 4 in one 24-hour period on the weekend of April 20. In fact, at one point there were 14 murders in 15 days in April of 2012, including the murder of George Street boss, Shelton “Pinky” Tillett, triggering a virtual shutdown of businesses in the old capital and inspiring unparalleled fear in the hearts and minds of Belizeans at home and abroad. Pinky Tillett was violently shot at a gas station at Mile 2 on the then Northern Highway, while he sat in his white Ford Ranger pickup truck along with a female friend, 23-year-old Kamill Andrews.

It is alleged that Pinky Tillett was killed by Pregnant Alley boss, Arthur Young, who was detained by Police two days later on Sunday, April 22, and who was shot and killed by Police as he struggled with a police officer for his handgun while in detention. That’s the official police version, while eyewitnesses countered that he was handcuffed while in the pan of the police mobile.

In the face of all the accumulating data to the contrary, at a press conference on Monday, April 23, National Security Minister John Saldivar spoke optimistically about the gang truce holding.

May and June did nothing to justify the Minister’s optimism as each month saw 15 murders recorded. That figure only dipped to 13 in July, and to 10 in each of the months of August and September, but back up to 13 in October. We had 11 murders in November, and so far in December we have equaled that figure with four days remaining.

Belize District is by far the most violent district with 87 people having been killed within its boundaries this year, while the Cayo District was a distant second with 21 murders. 11 persons have been killed in Orange Walk, 10 in Corozal, 9 in Stann Creek, and 4 in Toledo, arguably the safest place in Belize.

Among the 141 killed was a two-year-old baby girl in Ladyville, young Kaylee Burgess. According to the mother, Deidra Pratt, the baby was left in the care of her sister while she was being detained by Police, suspected of setting on fire the house of Kaylee’s father, Kevin Burgess. The toddler was reported missing by the aunt on the night of September 5, and shortly after, her body was found in a bucket.

It was first believed the child may have climbed into the bucket and drowned, but a post-mortem examination revealed she died from suffocation. She was suffocated and placed into the container. No one has yet been arrested for the death of the toddler, and Police say they are still investigating.

A few months earlier on June 6, 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe, a Girl Scout of Santa Elena, Cayo, was seen getting into a car not far from her home. She was never seen alive again. Her decomposing body was found in Cristo Rey Village. Doctor Mario Estradabran, at the time, said he could not determine the cause of death because of the advanced state of decomposition.

But Police caught a break less than two weeks later as Bert Vasquez, a businessman from Belize City, was arrested and charged after police caught him with an 11-year-old girl in the front seat of his car, reportedly with his pants down. When police searched the car, inside they found a ring belonging to Jasmine Lowe, reportedly given to her by her mother. In addition to Lowe’s murder, Police would go on to charge Vasquez – who had thrice been remanded for aggravated assault, twice against young women – with a slew of charges after receiving 11 other complaints from young women in the Cayo District.

Hundreds gathered outside of the San Ignacio Police Station on June 20 when Bert Vasquez was arrested and charged. The death of Jasmine Lowe triggered tremendous public outrage all across the country, and Cayo residents stood tall outside the courthouse demanding justice for her death, and an end to the crime and violence.

If the weekend of April 20 was the scariest, then the weekend of November 23 was the bloodiest and the deadliest — 6 persons were killed. Police say that in the wee hours of Sunday, November 25, inside their Ladyville home, Jared Ranguy shot his stepfather, Robert Vellos, 73; stabbed to death his mother, 51-year-old Karen Skeen Vellos; and shot his sister, Tina Beth Skeen, 32. Police say Ranguy confessed to them that he would have killed himself, but the gun malfunctioned. Jared Ranguy, 26, is now reportedly on suicide watch in the Belize Central Prison in Hattieville.

On that same day, Sunday, November 25, about 1:00 p.m. in an area where police and military personnel usually stand guard right across the street, as part of the new special crime-ridden areas initiative of the Belize government, William Felix Francis, 23, and his brother were relaxing inside their house adjacent to the Charles Bartlett Hyde Administration Building on Administration Drive, when a gunman entered the house and opened fire on Francis. He was shot about 9 times, one of which fatally wounded him.

His brother escaped the bloodbath by jumping through a window and running. Francis was a resident of Caye Caulker, and had just come to Belize City to visit his mother. Family members say he had no known enemies in the city.

Almost one month later on Monday, December 24, Police arrested and charged Ibrahim Smith for the murder of William Francis. As is often the case, Smith, who was remanded to the Hattieville Prison, is no stranger to the law.

In April of this year, Ibrahim Smith, of a Mopan Street address, was arraigned on charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, use of deadly means of harm, and wounding, all of which he allegedly committed against Desmond Gonzalez. Gonzalez told police that at around 1 p.m. on Friday, April 23, he was walking on M&M Street in Lake Independence, just a few blocks behind the Administration Building, when he saw a white Honda Civic vehicle drive up and Smith – whom he had known for years – jump out of the car with a gun. Gonzalez said Smith fired several shots at him, hitting him twice in the arm, before making good his escape.

And two years ago in November of 2010, Ibrahim Smith was charged with manslaughter for the shooting death of Shenelle Reyes, a17-year-old student of Sadie Vernon High School. The incident happened inside Reyes’ house on Sibun Street in the “Back-a-town Area” of Belize City.

Police are optimistic that their new crime-ridden areas initiative, which involves cordoning off areas where crime is rampant and controlling who goes in and out of these areas, as well as searching of homes and residents, will pay dividends. A beleaguered public waits, hoping and praying 2013 is a better year, particularly where crime and violence are concerned.

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