Commissioner of Police visits San Pedro Town and provides updates on murder of Mario Graniel and Dr. Gary Swank
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
The senseless murder of well-known island tour guide Mario Nestor Graniel Jr. and American tourist Dr. Gary Paul Swank has prompted the formation of a special police team to investigate the crime that occurred on Sunday, June 23rd during a fly-fishing trip at sea. Commissioner of Police (ComPol) Chester Williams visited San Pedro Town on Tuesday, June 25th, and met with the investigative team. After a closed-door meeting, he told The San Pedro Sun that a male suspect has been identified and police are currently searching for this person on the island as well as on the mainland.
ComPol Williams indicated that information had been sent to all police outposts across the country with the suspect’s identification. “It is believed that the suspect may have left the island, but we will still search for him on Ambergris Caye to verify if he has indeed left or not,” he said. Williams added that they are closely working with the U.S Embassy in Belize and they have representatives on the island with whom they are working with.
Graniel and Swank came under fire while on a fly-fishing trip a mile west of Ambergris Caye. Each was shot several times from a passing boat. A post-mortem conducted on both bodies certified their cause of death as Traumatic Asphyxiation. Graniel received multiple gunshot wounds to the right lung while Swank suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the left lung and trachea.
The investigation so far has produced some valuable information from interviews, but even though the process is showing positive results, Williams said that there is more to be done. “We are not yet where we want to be, but I am sure that in due time we will,” he said.
ComPol Williams referred to the shooting incident at Graniel’s home on Friday night, June 21st, when an unknown gunman shot several times at the residence. Williams said that video surveillance footage was made available to police, which helped in identifying the shooter, but declined from further comment. Three gunshots are visible on Graniel’s home veranda, and a nine-millimeter expended shell was still observed on the side of the house from where the shooting allegedly took place.
At a press briefing on Monday, June 24th, in Belize City, Williams told the media that police responded on Friday when the shooting took place and collected some expended shells. Police temporarily detained a couple of suspects, but according to Williams, Graniel never filed a complaint at the police station. Police increased their presence near his home and the area, but a day after the shooting to his house, Graniel left on a private fishing tour with Dr. Swank, who was vacationing in Belize with his wife and three children. Williams also mentioned that the possible motive might be linked to allegations that Graniel had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figures on the island.
The ComPol is set to meet with stakeholders on Wednesday, June 26th in San Pedro Town to assure them the safety of the tourism industry. “We will increase our presence on the island with additional personnel from the mainland to compliment the police force based here,” he said. Williams stated that the Belize Coast Guard has also dispatched additional personnel and resources to increase patrolling around Ambergris Caye. “We believe that moving forward, we have things in place to make sure that the residents on the island stay safe,” said Williams.
Graniel will be greatly missed on Ambergris Caye and beyond the shores of La Isla Bonita. Theodore Lennan, a resident of San Ignacio Town, Cayo District shared with The San Pedro Sun that Graniel was one of his closest friends. He traveled to the island to be with Graniel’s family on this difficult time. “We used to play darts together, we were double partners in this sport,” he said. “He was a good person. We used to travel to the Caribbean and across Belize competing in darts tournaments. When I received the news that he was killed I was shocked; I could not even talk.” Lennan said that his friend Graniel never had issues with people, he was a good person and friend, and he does not understand why someone would want to harm him. Lennan also mentioned that on Sunday when the murder occurred, Graniel was to travel to Corozal Town for a darts tournament, but because it was postponed, he took the time and went fishing with Swank.
The San Pedro Tour Guide Association (SPTGA) and the San Pedro Tour Operators Association (SPTOA) condemn this act of violence. President of the SPTGA, Philip ‘Billy’ Leslie stated that the community and the law enforcement authorities should work together to save the tourism industry. “This gives a black eye to our country, and we cannot afford to lose tourism on Ambergris Caye,” Leslie said. He also appealed to the authorities to do their best and solve this latest crime that unfortunately involved a tourist, the fuel of the tourism sector on the island. Leslie added that the association is deeply saddened by the tragic event and extends their condolences to the families of Graniel and Swank. “We lost a great pioneer to fly fishing and scuba diving,” Leslie ended.
The SPTOA issued a statement saying that in part read ‘safety has been our core priority and we pledge to keep working with the enforcement agencies to safeguard our workforce and visitors. We extend our most sincere condolences to our tourism partners that lost their life to crime and violence.’
The Belize Tourism Board issued a statement on Tuesday, June 25th extending their condolences to the affected families. ‘We continue to work closely with the Belize Police Department to support the investigation as appropriate,” the statement said. The note clarified that crime against tourists has been and remains very rare and that additional questions regarding the investigation surrounding the deaths of Graniel and Dr. Swank are being handled directly by the police department.
Police are appealing to the public to contact them with any information that may help their investigation. Anyone with information is advised to visit the nearest police station.
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