By Marco Lopez
The mass shooting in Hopkins village over the weekend, which caused two deaths and injuries to eight others, has hit home for many of us. The Wabinaha nightclub shooting has given us a bitter taste of what was before only seen on newsreels from the United States— where indiscriminate shooters have caused multiple fatalities and injuries in schools and at shopping malls.
In Belize, early on a Sunday morning, three men opened fire on patrons of the nightclub—their target being (according to police), Noah Moro, who got into an argument with the men over a girl and was fatally shot by them. The shooters, all from Sittee River, were accompanied by one John Roy Smith, 43, a former soldier of the Canadian Army, and the driver of the getaway vehicle. He was formally charged by police on Wednesday with two counts of abetment to commit murder in connection with the mass shooting, but those charges were subsequently upgraded to murder.
Smith, who has been in Belize for just 6 months, was extensively interviewed before arriving in the country, and in a video of that interview, which was posted on YouTube, he chronicled his time in the army and its effect on him as a person. He spoke about his struggle with addiction, the loss of comrades in battle and by suicide, and his battles with night terrors and suicidal thoughts. He currently lives in Sittee River, where he seemingly forged a friendship with the three men accused of the shooting, as can be seen in the photo of the group on his Facebook profile.
This has prompted questions about how much of an influence could the former soldier (trained in military tactics and scarred by war, and battling ongoing internal issues, and perhaps mental conditions) have had on the three men’s out-of-the-ordinary modus operandi—one of unrestrained violence—seen early Sunday morning inside the nightclub.
Smith said during the interview that he came to Belize after closing the doors of an organization he created named Frontline Cabinetry due to Covid-19 restrictions in his home country of Canada. That business enabled veterans who were finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life after returning from the battlefield, to earn a living while being supported by other veterans. He said during the extended interview that he was forced to leave Canada, in essence, and decided to come to a country where he was owed nothing – Belize. Here he bought a piece of land and was planning to construct a new house.
Just 6 months in, however, after what some reports say was an uncontrolled binge with cocaine and alcohol, following a breakup with his Belizean girlfriend, Smith is facing charges for a double murder after allegedly driving the vehicle that took the three accused gunmen to and from the Wabinaha nightclub to carry out the second mass shooting in this country’s history.
“I was a soldier, and doing soldier [expletive], wake up to explosions, to go sleep to explosions, people shooting at you, you shoot back … to me because I trained for it, I enjoyed being a solider,” Smith said during the interview. He was one of the Canadian soldiers involved in Operation Medusa in Afghanistan. That op was a Canadian-led offensive during the second Battle of Panjawii in 2006.
“They take away your rifle, they take away your rights to be able to defend yourself,” Smith said, adding this is something that stuck with him.
“There wasn’t a second of my existence during that time, that rifle was not laid in the exact spot that I needed to use it along with my load-bearing vest and my kevlar and, you know my body armor, everything laid out in a certain order, and then all of a sudden you wake up in the middle of the night and the package is not there; you don’t know where it is, cause you don’t have it no more. That was back then, and now I’m in the same pit, now I’m in the same position fast forward 10 years later,” Smith expressed.
He went on to say that the decision to close the organization he had founded, where he and other Canadian army veterans gathered to help each other in a healing process, is what led to his move from Canada to Belize, where he was planning on building a similar facility. He expressed a feeling of betrayal by his home country.
When asked if he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he said, “I was diagnosed more or less, because I did not have remorse, how I felt when I had to take lives. There’s just a big difference between going and hurting the innocent; in our case we fought Medusa … it was simple, black and white,” Smith said.
He said that in the past he had battled with depression, but said that he did not believe that he was still afflicted with the mental condition—further noting that the night terrors he experienced were linked to recollections of friends who committed suicide. Smith, who retired from the Canadian Army ten years ago, further revealed during the interview that he has also had bouts of addiction, and acknowledged battling an addiction to cocaine. This YouTube interview was dated March 2022, approximately 6 months ago—just before he left for Belize.
When asked if he had thoughts of healing, Smith replied, “constantly, always trying.”
He was asked if he struggles with anger management, and replied, “I’ ll always got anger. It will always be a part of me, it’s my strongest emotion, it’s easy to resort to anger. It’s intense, you know. That violence can get you in a lot of trouble. You’re out of control of the repercussions, so the anger can be your enemy.”
The retired Master Corporal served during 2 tours in Afghanistan and during Operation Medusa, during which 12 of his comrades were killed and 40 wounded, and which is further linked to 70 suicides committed by soldiers who were involved in that op.
Coconut Outpost, a non-profit organization that has directed veterans to Belize as a vacation destination, hosted Smith for a short stay at their facilities, they said.
“We have heard about the shootings and do not condone this type of activity. Our hearts are saddened over the needless loss of life and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased and injured,” the organization stated.