Headline — 10 July 2019 — by Albert J. Ciego
Tourist tragically drowns off Caribou Caye while snorkeling

Gemma Paybarah, her husband and six others were snorkeling when she went missing

PLACENCIA, Stann Creek District, Mon. July 8, 2019– The vacation of an American couple who went to Placencia on Wednesday was brought to an abrupt and tragic end when Gemma Paybarah, 43, a realtor of San Fransisco, USA, drowned while snorkeling off Caribou Caye, Stann Creek District, with her husband and six others, along with a tour guide.

The incident occurred on Friday. Information to us is that Paybarah and her husband, Joshan Paybarah, and the group went to snorkel, but afterwards, when checks were made, Gemma was missing.

A search for her by the group was immediately carried out. Police were alerted, and they also joined in the search for the American tourist on Friday, but the effort was in vain, and the search was called off that evening.

On Saturday morning at about 7:30, however, the occupants of a boat that was traveling near Wee Wee Caye, which neighbors Caribou Caye, saw a body of a woman floating in the sea about 600 feet from  the shores of Wee Wee Caye.

ACP Joseph Myvett told us this afternoon during the regular Monday afternoon police press brief that the boat captain stopped the boat, recovered the body and took it to Placencia, where it was identified as being that of Gemma Paybarah. The body was then taken to Southern Regional Hospital, where it will undergo an autopsy.

Police said that there were no signs of violence on the body, and foul play is not suspected.

Myvett said that an investigation has been launched into the death of Paybarah.

Joshan Paybarah will return his wife’s body home in a coffin for her funeral.

The United States Embassy has been contacted and the arrangements to return Gemma’s body to her hometown for her burial will be carried out through the Embassy in Belmopan.

In remembering Gemma on Facebook, her sister and lifelong friend, Leila Meila, said, “I’ve been trying to understand how this could have happened to you, Gemma, my big sister. Nothing makes sense when I run all possible scenarios in my head but in the end it really doesn’t matter because you’re still gone. I can’t believe it. You didn’t deserve this. You were taken from us too soon, Gigi. Oh god, this feels like a terrible dream.

“You were my idol growing up, did you ever know that? You passed on your love of 90s hip-hop – Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Wu-Tang forever. Dave Matthews Band, too. I learned the lyrics to all your favorite songs so I could sing-along as you drove Arash and I around in your purple Honda Civic.

“I remember you taking us to Blockbuster for movie nights and letting me rent ‘The Princess Bride’ time and again. You were such a loving sister and made time for us, your much younger and I’m sure often annoying siblings.

“I remember when I was a teenager and you moved from MD/VA to SF, you still showed you cared. You answered my calls when I needed advice, even when it was late at night and I should have been asleep; you were there. Through good decisions and bad, you were always honest and never passed judgment; you spoke to me with candor and kindness.

“You inspired me to be a strong and independent woman like our mom and sparked my desire for adventure and travel when you ventured to Italy with me for a month after I graduated high school. You showed me how to live life fully; how to live with joy and no fear; how to speak up for myself.

“You raised two incredible children, Delilah and Keivan, who are so smart and full of life and I have no doubt will grow to be incredible humans that will make you and Joshan so proud. I will always be there for them. I will always show up the way you did for me.

“It’s not fair that you’re gone and they won’t experience your love and beautiful presence for the rest of their lives but know that your spirit and big heart will continue to live in them.

May you rest in peace, my dear sister. I still can’t believe you’re gone. I love you and will miss you always.”

A friend of hers (no name given) wrote on a Go Fund Me page set up in her honor, “It is with an extremely heavy heart that I’m setting up this Go Fund me page for Gemma Paybarah and her family.  On July 5 in Belize, Gemma passed away. The cause of her death is still being determined. As many of you know, Gemma was an amazing mother to Delilah and Keivan and an incredible wife to Joe. She always said it takes a village (to raise a child), and she was the center of everyone’s village.”

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Deshawn Swasey

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