Monday, July 22, 2024

Memorial service held for Mario Graniel and Dr. Gary Swank; Ambergris Caye registers a year with zero murders


Tuesday, June 23rd marks a year without a homicide on Ambergris Caye. This reduction in deadly crime is attributed to the work of current Officer in Charge of Coastal Executive Unit (Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker), Superintendent Christopher Noble, and his team. A year ago today, San Pedro experienced one of the worst crimes in recent history when an American tourist, Dr. Gary Swank, and local tour guide Mario Graniel were gunned down while on a fly-fishing trip off the north-west coast of the island. The double murder remains unresolved, but today, family members and friends remembered their lives during a memorial service at the place of their demise.

At 10AM, a group of Graniel’s relatives and friends boarded a boat from a dock in downtown San Pedro, accompanied by Catholic Priest Scott Giuliani, U.S. Warden Jeff Bella, and members of the San Pedro Police Formation, who organized the short memorial. They headed to the area where a year ago, the deadly incident took the lives of Graniel and Dr. Swank. The short trip took the group through Boca del Rio, through narrow channels bordered by lush mangroves. When they arrived on the west coast of the island, the boat stopped on the flats which are a playground for fly-fishers from around the world. This is the area where Graniel and Dr. Swank were out fly-fishing when their lives violently ended.

Superintendent Noble shared a few words, thanking everyone present and reaffirming his commitment to work hard to keep islanders and visitors safe. He commended his team and attributed the reduction of crime on the island to successful community policing. Fly-fishing tour guide and instructor Omar Arceo and Father Giuliani presided over the religious part of the memorial service, sharing the word of God. President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, Philip ‘Billy’ Leslie, spoke about his friend, Graniel, who, like him, was a dedicated tour guide.

Afterward, two wreaths were laid on the water to honor the lives of Graniel and Swank.

One of Graniel’s Daughter, Debbie Graniel, spoke to the media and said that while it was emotional, she was happy to have been part of the memorial service for her father. Graniel expressed frustration over the fact that the case remains unresolved, especially given the fact that according to a police report they were provided with, there were several suspects connected to the murder weapon. She believes that there is sufficient information/evidence to bring closure to the case. “The truth will come out someday, and we are going to wait and hope for the best,” she said. Graniel added that it has been difficult to cope with the issue for the past year. Still, they are optimistic about the outcome of the situation and trying to stay safe from the elements believed to be responsible for the double murder.

Changes in command following double murder

The shocking double murder threatened the tourism industry, prompting the Belize Police Department (BPD) to establish a special security unit on the island. Initial investigations led to the custody of several suspects, but no one was ever charged. The BPD made swift changes in the command of the island security forces and installed Superintendent Noble as the new head in charge of the special security unit. His work and strategies for the past year have kept the island free of murders. This achievement rewarded him with the 2019 Crime Fighter Award.

Double murder remains unresolved

Graniel and Swank came under fire from a passing boat, and each was shot several times. According to a post-mortem conducted on both bodies, 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.

Several months later, the Commissioner of Police (ComPol), Chester Williams, said that the investigation was at a halt after their main suspect was apparently killed in Guatemala. According to ComPol Williams, they had recovered the murder weapon from a house in San Pedro and had compiled enough evidence to make an arrest and charge. “We had narrowed down the investigation to one person,” said Williams. “But when we were about to move in on that person, he was reported missing from Benque Viejo del Carmen Town, and from what we were made aware of, he was taken across to Guatemala. He was apparently killed in an area we have not yet confirmed,” Williams said in an interview in February of this year. ComPol added that although there might have been other conspirators, it will be difficult to tie them to the crime without the main suspect; thus, the investigation came to a standstill.

ComPol indicated that they reached out to their Guatemalan counterparts for confirmation on the main suspect’s death, but none was provided.

The double slaying caused great concern in the travel community and made a dent in the tourism sector countrywide. Many establishments, such as hotels, claimed to have experienced cancellations following the incident. Tour Operators also reported cancellations in tours, and restaurants hosting banquets were also affected.

As for the motive, a police report stated that it was as a result of a love triangle and illicit association with criminal elements on the island. It was concluded that Graniel was the sole target, and Dr. Swank ended up being what was described as collateral damage.

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