Headline — 10 January 2014 — by Albert J. Ciego
Sensational Cayo rescue of  kidnapped US citizens!

Belize cops rescue two American Indian students held for US$75,000

Quick, admirable police work today led to the rescue of two American Indian students from Saint Paul, Virginia. Two men had abducted them and their host at gunpoint this morning from a driveway in Bullet Tree Village, Cayo District.

Theo Cocchi, 43, a Belizean businesswoman and owner of Parrot Nest Hotel, situated in Bullet Tree, told police that at about 8:00 a.m. today, Thursday, she was leaving her business, Parrot Nest Resort, in her white KIA Sportage SUV, along with two guests, Kathen Kotay, 18, and Manish Kotay, 22, American Indian students from St. Paul, Virginia, (USA) who are sister and brother. Cocchi told police that while exiting her driveway, she was approached by two Hispanic men armed with what appeared to be handguns. The men boarded and took control of the vehicle, drove off and then stopped near the cemetery area, where they met with two other Hispanic men.

The four men then drove off with their captives in the direction of the Paslow Falls Road in Bullet Tree. The abductors then stopped the vehicle and told Cocchi that she needed to get US$75,000 in two hours’ time, and that they would hold Manish and Kathen Kotay until she got the money. The men took away Cocchi’s Smart cell phone and ordered her to drive away and get the money, and when she returned to give them a call. They told her that she must not inform the police, or else they would kill her family.

Before Cocchi left, however, the men stole her two gold rings, one valued at $350, and the other, $100, and they told her to get more jewellery from her house.

Theo Cocchi then drove off towards Bullet Tree, but bravely visited another resort, Chaa Creek, San Ignacio, from whose offices she called the police.

San Ignacio Police began acting on the information at about 8:30 a.m. They went to the Chaa Creek office, situated on Burns Avenue in San Ignacio, where they met Cocchi and heard her recounting of the kidnapping.

Police then left Cocchi at the Chaa Creek office to begin their rescue operations. They combed the entire area of Paslow Falls Road, Santa Rosa Road and Calla Creek for the suspects. Area residents sighted three Hispanic males, believed to be Guatemalans, fleeing to the border. In the area Police found a blue knapsack with wet clothes, including an orange sweater and wet blue sweater, believed to be the clothes that the suspects were wearing at the time of the abduction. The white Sportage SUV was also recovered.

Chris Caridi, Police Special Constable and resort owner/businessman of Bullet Tree, told Amandala that when the villagers heard that the two young tourists had been kidnapped, they immediately began a search for them. He was in his resort when police came and asked if he had noticed any strange happenings in the area, and when he replied no, that was when he was told by police that two tourists had been kidnapped. He said that he mobilized his workers and went into the Paslow Falls Road to an area he believed the kidnappers would take the two hostages. He divided his workers into two groups to look in the bushes for them, and then he came across three pairs of footprints that were fresh.

Caridi said that it had been raining, but the tracks did not have water in them, which made him conclude that they were fresh. He followed them, after which he saw two pairs of footprints, and one had disappeared near a gully.

Caridi then called for police backup and informed them that one person was in the gully, but he did not know who it was, or whether the person was armed. Police went with Caridi into the gully and found Manish Kotay. He was happy to be rescued, and police then took him to safety.

Caridi said that he again resumed tracking the prints, but they went to the river which crossed into Guatemala.

Shortly after, they were informed that the girl, Kathen Kotay, had been found. She told police that she faked asthma attacks as a reason for not keeping up with the kidnappers. They thus abandoned her and crossed the river into Guatemala.

Caridi said that the distance was about four miles from where the abductions took place to the Guatemala crossing. Manish Kotay was found about 2 miles from the crossing and 30 minutes later, Kathen Kotay was discovered by another group of police officers about a mile from the crossing.

Caridi reported that the boy was threatened that the kidnappers would return and shoot him if he made any noise or alerted anyone that he was there, and he was very quiet.

Caridi said that Bullet Tree is a close-knit community, where people help each other. When something happens, everyone responds. He was certain that the kidnappers intended to take the two hostages to Guatemala to hold them there, because of the direction they were travelling in towards the river crossing.

He said that Cocchi and her guests were going to see the tourist attractions in the Bullet Tree area when the kidnappers attacked.

He is very happy that the boy and his sister were rescued, because they perhaps would have been killed or seriously hurt.

Chris Caridi has been operating as a resort owner and a businessman in Bullet Tree and this is the first time that such an incident has occurred. He believes this is an isolated incident and it should not affect the tourist trade in the area. He said that crime is almost non-existent in the area. Police routinely conduct patrols, but the only illegal activity noted was the smuggling of cigarettes and beers through the area, which the police are addressing.

Bullet Tree villagers believe that the kidnapping was masterminded and carried out by Alex “Cat” Reid and Kevin Manzanero, two fugitive criminals from the Cayo area who are wanted by Corozal and Cayo police for murder and numerous robbery charges. One villager reported that one of these two wanted men, identified as Kevin Manzanero, was seen near the cemetery along with other Hispanic men when the tourists were being kidnapped. He got into a vehicle that was behind the Kia Sportage and drove away behind them.

Caridi believes that if and when Kevin Manzanero and Cat Reid are captured, tranquillity will return to the area. He thanks the villagers, the San Ignacio police, soldiers of the BDF and the Special Branch for their response and efficiency.

Supt. Ralph Moody, officer in charge of the San Ignacio police, was the officer in charge overall of the rescue operations.

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