The sheer brazenness of the armed robbery, which has resulted in a murder, and left one woman a grieving, very pregnant widow, has shocked a nation that has gotten used to brazen armed robberies.
In this case, the gunmen held up a bank located right next to the police station in Spanish Lookout; all that separates the buildings is the bank’s parking lot.
At about 8:47 this morning at Scotiabank (Belize), Spanish Lookout Branch, Cayo District, four masked gunmen, in a well-orchestrated effort, invaded the bank, leaving one of their comrades outside with the getaway vehicle. A security officer who was outside the bank was shot and later succumbed to his injuries.
A surveillance camera revealed that the entire robbery only took about four minutes, and that the robbers brought their own bags, two large, sturdy bags, which they stuffed full of cash, the amount of which has not been revealed.
The camera also revealed that the unmasked robber outside the bank was of Hispanic origin, and that the security guard was shot immediately, with a pump 12 shotgun, before the gunmen entered the bank.
The gunmen forced the manager to open the vault, and also robbed the cash in the cashiers’ drawers.
A customer who had just finished making a withdrawal in the bank was also relieved of his cash, making a total of three bags the robbers carried out of the bank. Two customers who were in the bank were also injured during this incident.
Information to Amandala is that the getaway vehicle was stolen. The driver had been assaulted in Bullet Tree and tied up to a tree, after which his vehicle was stolen.
The unbelievable part of the bank heist is that the only thing that separates the bank from the police station is the bank’s parking lot.
The police officer assigned to the village responded to reports of the robbery, and a shootout ensued between him and the robbers coming out of the bank, during which one of the robbers was injured. The four robbers then escaped in the stolen white 4-door Suzuki Sidekick.
At press time tonight, Tuesday, none of the bank robbers had been apprehended. Police still do not know whether they are Belizeans, or are criminals from across the border, which is to say, Guatemala, which has been the case in the past in more than one holdup.
On Wednesday, February 3, 2010, a raiding party from Guatemala hijacked a $350,000 government-owned grader and drove it over the border, past Arenal into Guatemala.
This group of four gunmen surrounded the grader and its operator, Dwayne Arthurs, as he worked a lonely strip of road near Teakettle Village.
Belizean authorities conducted an air and ground search and spotted the grader at a place called Durango, in Guatemala, but it was quickly taken into a hiding place.
CEO in the Ministry of Works Cadet Henderson told Amandala at the time that he was confident the grader would be recovered intact, and also commented that both Interpol and Guatemalan politicians, particularly the president of their Congress, had been informed and had pledged their cooperation.
Since then, however, there have been no further reports of the grader being recovered, or even its whereabouts.
Scotiabank personnel, for their part, were instructed by their bosses not to speak to the press. The parking lot of the Scotiabank branch was also blocked off by police, but we were able to speak to eyewitnesses still in the area.
One eyewitness: “Well, we hear the gunshots, and I drove down the hill and I saw the watchman was lying down. He was still moving up and down, and I think that he just got hurt, so when I came past the mango tree there (close by), someone honked a horn and notified me to go back.
“So I told everybody to turn back, turn back! But I took a big u-turn, and I ran to the police station without the robbers noticing me. I ran into the police station. I told the police what happened, I said, ‘The security guard get shot.’
“And so another person and I went outside and the police officer run with his gun out, and he was right behind us. …And I tried to see if I could get to the guy to see if I could save him, because I have Red Cross training, plus licensed first aid. …So I tried to see what I could do, but they fired on the police, and the police opened fire in return.
“We didn’t even get to the person as yet, because I was right behind the police and bullets were still flying. I reversed as far back as I could, and I ran into the police station for shelter.”
The eyewitness was unable to give an estimate of how many gunshots were fired, but she said that at least six to 10 shots were fired before she was able to reach the police station. She said all the gunmen who she could see were masked and wearing normal clothing that revealed very little skin.
She also said that she found a witness that was in a house nearby, and she tried to persuade the witness to make a statement to the police about what she saw in the bank.
According to her, however, the witness was too frightened to leave because the witness alleged that the robbers saw her face when she ran out of the bank. She said that she dressed the woman in different clothing and took this woman to the police station. Our eyewitness said that she then left.
Other eyewitnesses say that not all four of the men were masked, and a man of Hispanic descent was one of the robbers.
One witness says he and some friends were in Spanish Lookout to pick up a vehicle being repaired, but they did not have enough cash on them. This witness says that they entered the bank’s parking lot and was about to enter the bank when they saw people on the floor, and they became alarmed.
According to the witness, they tried to leave the bank, but one of the gunmen spotted them and opened fire, and one of them was shot, and had to be transported to the hospital in Cayo.
Another witness says that he saw when the robbers exited and they found a Mennonite customer heading out after doing a transaction, which left him with BZ$10,000.
According to the witness, the men robbed this customer of his cash and escaped in a white vehicle with three money bags filled with the bank’s cash, and the $10,000.
Amandala was able to speak with the wife of the deceased security guard, who was distraught with grief. The security guard was the late Steven Rudolph Lopez, 32, a Belizean living in a residence in the Unitedville area, which is a twenty-minute drive away from the scene of the robbery.
According to his wife, Shaily Lopez, 23, pregnant mother of three children, Lopez was not even supposed to be stationed at the bank today, working elsewhere, but he filled in after coming off a double shift because an employee was unable to make it to the bank. He had been working as a KBH security guard for two years, and he was stationed at the Belize Natural Energy headquarters.
Mrs. Lopez also commented about the robbery.
“I had a bad feeling about him going into work this morning, but I never wah question ah, because I noh wah think that something mih wah happen to ah. But he know something mih wah happen dah that bank, because ever since that bank open, they use to put one security guard deh.
“But starting last week, deh start putting two security deh. So he tell me that he feel that fih he boss deh know that something wah happen dah that bank, and that’s why deh di put two security deh. And deh still noh give deh no gun, and I noh know. …He seh that KBH seh that Scotiabank noh wah pay fih the gun dem, so KBH noh wah give dehn, unless Scotiabank pay for it.
“So now he mih unarmed, and he mih can’t defend ihself.”
Amandala understands, however, that it is the practice of some banks not to arm their security guards, in the belief that there would be less danger to their lives if the guards were not armed.
Shaily Lopez also said that her husband was a very good stepfather to her three other children, and that they recently got married in January. She additionally commented that they were expecting their first child together, which would have been his first child, on April 9, 2010. Lopez was murdered a mere few days before his child was scheduled to be born.