Santa Familia, Cayo District, Tues. Sept. 7, 2021– The fatal shooting of BDF soldier Jesse Escobar by another soldier — and all the circumstances surrounding that shooting, including the fact that it took place while his wife and daughter looked on helplessly — stirred a sense of bitterness and rage within many Belizean hearts. In the village of Santa Familia, Cayo, where he resided, and where reportedly a number of previous incidents of injustice at the hands of police had occurred, that rage boiled over, and the fires that Commissioner of Police Chester Williams would later try to visit the village to put out were not just figurative. They were real. Blazing tires at one point even blocked the entrance on the highway to the village, as Santa Familia residents swarmed the village streets to protest. And then there was an expression of anger that took things to another level — the burning of the home of police rookie Juan Carlos Morales (involved in the confrontation which led to Escobar’s death) until it was nothing but a dusty heap.
On Tuesday, the residents of the village, located near Belize’s border with Guatemala, continued their protests in front of the store to which an off-duty Escobar had reportedly gone with his family to buy snacks, and in front of which he was killed by BDF soldier Raheem Valencio in front of his wife and child. Commissioner of Police Chester Williams visited the village on Tuesday in an effort to quell the anger of the villagers who had been been demanding justice in the form of a murder charge against Valencio.
During his visit, the Police Commissioner, in the midst of the angry protesters chanting “we want justice”, promised Escobar’s family that justice would be delivered. When interviewed by local reporters, Private Escobar’s mother made mention of this promise and expressed her satisfaction that the Commissioner had given her such an assurance:
“He [Commissioner Williams] promised me that he will make justice and I’m satisfied with that because that was not manslaughter. That was murder. And I feel good that he [Commissioner Williams] will do something! Because he is the boss. The worst thing I feel is because they killed my son in front of my little baby [her granddaughter — Private Escobar’s daughter]. That hurt me a lot. You see now, my little bay, when she sees a police or a BDF she starts to cry because she says I am afraid of that. If you ask her, where is your daddy? ‘The BDF killed my dad’ she says,” the grieving mother said.
Commissioner Williams in turn explained to the media the purpose of his visit and how he intends to go about handling the matter as it progresses through the various legal stages:
“Let me say thanks to the mother for lending me her ear this morning to discuss with her, in terms of what we are doing and where the investigation is. And most importantly for, despite the fact that she’s in extreme pain of grief, she still found it in her heart to understand what we’re doing and where we are,” he said.
He then referred to the acts of protest within the village which had become so unruly and ultimately destructive. “I did see the videos from what happened last night. And yes, while it was happening, the police wanted to engage. And I said no, we’re not going to engage these people. People do have a right to dissent. And even though it was not a peaceful dissent, as it ought to have been, we try to understand the pain of the village over what had transpired. And so, with that we allowed them to express themselves the way they did last night. But, I decided to come this morning because I think that as the Commissioner of Police, I owe the mother, Ms. Escobar, some explanation in terms of what we’re doing — to give her some assurance that she may be seeking,” he said.
He then went on to explain, “From a police standpoint, we are compiling the file along with the video footage that we had received and those will go to the office of the DPP this morning for determination on the matter. I emphasize the point that, from what we saw on the video, it is an unjustified shooting. There is nothing that we can do or say to try and justify that, and any right-thinking person would come to that conclusion. So, we’ll do our part.”
While Escobar’s mother said she was happy to receive the Commissioner’s pledge that justice would be delivered, Commissioner Williams said that he would not go as far as to preempt the DPP’s ruling on the case, as the Police Department must await a ruling to proceed. Additionally, the Commissioner went on record to acknowledge that false details were contained in the statement provided to police by PC Morales. Surveillance footage of the incident showed gross inconsistencies between the sequence of events described by Officer Morales and what really took place. The Police Commissioner confirmed that, because of those false statements, Morales will be interdicted after charges are levied him. The footage of the incident revealed that Morales too fired a shot at Private Escobar at the same time that the fatal shot was fired by BDF soldier Valencio, although it has been reported that Morales had aimed his gun at the ground or in the air.
The Commissioner stated that the police are working with the villagers of Santa Familia to try to restore peace, and to bring the aggressive acts of protest to an end while the case is being reviewed.