ROANOKE—Belize authorities say a local guide, who was leading a Virginia doctor on a fishing trip when they were both fatally shot, might have been the target of a gang hit in the country.
Authorities said they found 53-year-old Gary Swank, a cardiologist at Virginia Tech’s Carilion Clinic, and 53-year-old Mario Graniel in a lagoon near the town of San Pedro earlier this week.
The Roanoke Times reports the Belize Police Departments’ commissioner, Chester Williams, told Belize media on Monday that investigators think Graniel “had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figures in San Pedro.”
Police believe the physician’s local guide had “had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figure in San Pedro.”https://t.co/IzpZlFSMEi
— The Roanoke Times (@roanoketimes) June 27, 2019
Williams says Graniel’s home had also been shot at last Friday. He said police were working with the U.S. embassy.
On Monday, Sen. Mark Warner said his office was monitoring the case.
Chris Turnbull, director of corporate communications with Carilion Clinic, said in a statement he was “heartbroken,” and described the 53-year-old as a “well-respected” and “well-loved” colleague.
“His absence leaves a void in our team and in our community. Our thoughts, prayers and attention are now focused on helping his family navigate this difficult time,” Turnbull added.
“Heightened Risks to Safety and Security”
This year, Belize was ranked fourth by WorldAtlas.com among countries with the highest murder rates in the world.
According to the site, Belize has a murder rate of 44.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, and local police are focusing on reducing the murder rate for 2019.
Last year, a total of 143 murders were recorded in the popular tourist destination, one higher than 2017, BBN reported.
In January this year, the U.S. State Department increased Belize’s travel advisory to a Level 2, which urges tourists to remain alert to “heightened risks to safety and security,” especially in the southern areas of Belize City.
Take a dive in this blue hole off the coast of Belize ???????? pic.twitter.com/PGlbkIEJFJ
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) 5 June 2019
It said the travel alert was raised for the region because of violent crime, including “sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies and murder,” much of which is gang-related.
The Associated Press and Epoch Times reporter Isabel Van Brugen contributed to this article.