BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 4, 2018– It seems as if every other week a child is reported missing. The relief of families when their loved one is found is immense. Far too often, the story ends in grief. Sometimes, the bodies of children who disappeared are discovered, and although the family receives the closure they need, it does little to lessen the grief.
Last Monday, September 24, three children narrowly escaped being abducted by a Caucasian man who was driving a white van with painted decorations on the side and front. According to the children, ages 8, 12, and 14, the man offered them a ride and when they declined, he grabbed the 8-year-old boy and attempted to force him inside the van.
The three children then began hitting the man, causing him to let go and drive away. Police later arrested the man they believe to be the alleged kidnapper, Roger Wallis, 63.
These children were brave and fortunate to be able to escape unharmed. For many other children, though, this is not always the case.
One of the most horrific unsolved mysteries in Belize’s history was the string of murders of young girls between the ages of 9 and 15, from 1998 to 2000. These girls were all kidnapped, drugged, and mutilated. Their unknown killer was dubbed “Belizean Jack the Ripper.”
The first girl, Sherilee Nicholas, 13, went to school on September 8, 1998, and never returned. Her body was found on October 9 of that same year with more than 40 stab wounds on her head and chest, and her body showed signs of rape as well. Her arm was almost cut off and her face was cut open. She was found on the George Price Highway wearing the clothes of Jay Blades, 9 – the second girl who had gone missing.
Blades had disappeared two days before Nicholas’ body was found, but her remains – a skull and a few bones – were not found until 6 months later. During these 6 months that she was missing, other girls went missing as well.
On March 25, 1999, two days after she was reported missing, the body of Jackie Fern Malic, 12, was found in the same area in which Nicholas’s body was found, down a feeder road where Homeland Memorial Park currently sits. Her body was found with multiple stab wounds and her left arm was dismembered.
Malic’s case was different from the rest because there was one person who was arrested for her murder. According to her sister, Adelma Malic, their neighbor, Michael Williams, then 40 years old, had offered her, Jackie, and another girl they were with, a ride while they were walking to school. However, they declined.
Later, when Adelma went to look for her sister so that they could have lunch, the teacher said she never returned to class. The other girl they were with, told Adelma that a man in a car had asked to see Jackie outside. Adelma ran home to tell her grandmother and they began searching for Jackie, but to no avail, until her body was later found.
Williams, a mechanic, was arrested and charged for Jackie’s death, but he was exonerated for the crime. While Williams was in custody, yet another girl disappeared. This was Erica Wills, 8. She went missing on June 26, 1999. But her family didn’t notice until June 29 because Wills was supposed to have been staying at a relative’s house on Euphrates Avenue, and each household thought she was with the other. Her bones were found three weeks later, near Gracie Rock Village. Her mother was able to identify her by a ring, a bracelet, some clothes and a hair band.
The final girl to go missing as a part of the string of “Ripper” murders was Noemi Hernandez, 14. She went missing on February 15, 2000, while she was carrying out an errand that she had been sent to do on Mosul Street. Her body was found on February 24, 2000 with some of its parts missing on a sandy mound at the mouth of the Belize River with multiple stab wounds to the face and neck as well.
Hernandez’s father was able to identify the body as that of Noemi because of the blue jeans she was wearing. He still clung to the hope, however, that it was not Noemi, and that she would still come home.
Dr. Mario Estradabran, a pathologist, had said, concerning the murders, that they were too similar to not have been committed by the same person. He said the same surgical instrument was used in all the cases, suggesting that the killer had a medical background or some access to the instruments.
He also made a revelation that the girls had been drugged and given alcohol to numb their bodies before they were murdered.
Two other girls also went missing and were found dead during the time of Jack the Ripper, but it was later believed that they weren’t killed by him. Samantha Gordon, 15, was last seen on November 6, 1998. Her mother recalled that she was going with some friends to a basketball game at the old Civic Center. Two days later, however, on November 8, her naked body was found floating out at sea near Vista Del Mar in Ladyville, with bruises and deep stab wounds to the back and knees. In June 1999, 4 men were charged for her murder.
Also, in 15 February, 1999, the body of Rebecca “Becky” Gilharry, 13, was found near an archaeological site in Santa Rita Hill in Corozal. Gilharry was reported missing February 14 after she was sent to make a phone call with an acquaintance of her family, Robert Hill, then 22. Her family became concerned when Hill returned without Gilharry and said he did not know where she was. A post-mortem exam revealed that Gilharry died from asphyxia. Hill was later charged for her murder.
While these families received their much-needed closure, there are some who still hope for the return of their missing children. Such is the case with the Rash family. Benjamin and Oneila Rash, ages 11 and 9 respectively, were selling limes and craboo in Cattle Landing, Toledo District, when they disappeared without a trace.
The two children, who were residents of San Marcos, Toledo District, boarded a bus with their father, Pedro Rash, on August 31, 2010. Eventually, they came off the bus alone, and hopped on another bus going to Hopeville with their uncle, Domingo Rash.
The children and their uncle then got off the bus at Cattle Landing. From there, the children went on to sell their fruits. Domingo recalled seeing them around 10 a.m. with their buckets, and he never thought that he wouldn’t see them again.
Reportedly, the last time they were seen by anyone else was at 3:48 p.m.
The children never came home. Pedro said he went to the police around 9:30 p.m. that day, but the police told him that only after at least 24 hours had passed could the kids be considered missing. When the children didn’t reach home by Wednesday, a massive search party was launched to help find them.
Up to this day, the children have not been found. Some residents of Toledo had speculated that they were kidnapped and fed to crocodiles by the owner of a crocodile sanctuary in the area.
Another abduction that is seared into the memories of Belizeans is that of 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe. Lowe went missing on June 4, 2012, and her body was later found on June 6 of that same year. She went missing after she left her home in Santa Elena (Cayo District) to participate with the Girl Scouts in a Diamond Jubilee in Belmopan. Her decomposing body was later found in the bushes near a farm on the Cristo Rey Road.
According to her father, Lowe was supposed to go to her mom’s salon before going to the event. She left home at 2 p.m. and reports were that she had gotten into a white taxi shortly after.
On Monday, June 18, of that year, police detained Bert Vasquez, 33, after about 13 minors had come forward saying that a man in a white taxi had tried to lure them into the car with promises of money. When Vasquez’s car was searched, some hair and a ring which Lowe’s mother identified as her daughter’s, were found.
In 2017, Vasquez was sentenced to 10 years in prison for forcible abduction and aggravated (indecent) sexual assault against another girl who was 16 at the time she was abducted by Vasquez. Fortunately, she survived the incident. Vasquez still awaits his trial for Lowe’s murder.
In 2017, there was also a case of 3 girls who escaped their kidnapper in El Progresso, Cayo District. The girls, two of whom were sisters, were ages 9, 10, and 11. They were on their way to school around 8:30 a.m. on October 16, 2017, when they were abducted by a Caucasian man in a blue Isuzu pickup truck. The man tied their hands together with their school shirts and reportedly took them into some bushes where he touched them indecently. He had then put them back in the pan of his pickup truck, but the girls bravely jumped out while the vehicle was being driven along the Georgeville Road.
By sheer coincidence, the father of the two sisters was driving past the vehicle at this same time and saw the girls jump out of the truck. The pickup truck sped away, but the father was able to take the girls to the police station. When they were examined by a doctor, it was noted that their undergarments were missing.
As mentioned before, many other children have gone missing since Sherilee Nicholas disappeared in 1998. While some have returned home, others are still missing. Three months ago, in June, Alyka Coye, 17, a resident of Belmopan, had gone missing. Most concerning is that her mother, Karen O’Brien, recently told Love FM that she had received texts from her daughter in early September saying that she was working and was alone. Of course, her mother still hopes that she will come home.
Currently, another teen, Analeily Chi, 14, of San Luis Village in the Orange Walk District, is missing. At 8 a.m. on September 29, her father had taken her to Orange Walk Town because she told him she needed to go to a friend’s house to work on a project.
Around 2 p.m., when her father went to pick her up, she was nowhere to be found. Video footage placed her at Western Dairies with a boy sometime in the day, but her whereabouts after that are unknown.
Her father recently said that he has in fact gotten in contact with his daughter, who told him that she is okay and even sent a picture to prove it. He does not know where she is, however, and he believes that she has been abducted by a man who has told her what to say.
At about 5:30 p.m. this evening, however, police found Analeily Chi alive and well in a house in San Luis, in the Orange Walk District, and she has been returned home. Police did not say who Analeily was with.
The last known incident — an alleged attempted kidnapping, occurred Tuesday, October 2, at around 3:30 p.m. when a girl, 15, and her cousin, 8, were walking home in Trial Farm. The girl had gone to pick up her cousin from school and while they were going back home, a man on a bike followed them.
As they neared their home at the corner of Mangrove and Plum Streets, another man emerged from the bushes. The children screamed, and the men left.
Another minor saw the clothes that the men were wearing, but they all said that they did not see the men’s faces.
According to police, however, the men made no attempt to grab the children, and no physical contact was made, so there is a chance that it was not an attempted kidnapping and the children were simply mistaken. Still, it was smart of the children to be vigilant while walking home.
It is important for parents and children to keep vigilant in the wake of these kidnappings and attempted kidnappings. The pain of parents who have lost their children cannot be fathomed, and one can only hope that the children who are currently missing will one day return.