A night of terror and violence but Paradise isn’t lost

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Acting on information received of a Home Invasion, police visited the north side of the island at an apartment complex in the Tres Cocos area of San Pedro Town where they saw three persons with varying degrees of injuries. Douglas Kelly had a cut wound to the wrist, hand, stomach and head, Ms. Gail Neal had cut wounds over left eye and mouth and Mr. Thomas Fiorille had a cut wound to the chest and wrist. Initial investigation revealed that at 12:10 a.m. Friday Sept 12th, 68-year-old Douglas Kelly and his wife 65-year-old Gail Neal both retired Americans were inside their condo sitting in their living room watching TV when they were alerted by a noise coming from the direction of their front veranda. Upon investigation, Mr. Douglas was attacked by a tall male person of dark complexion armed with a kitchen knife. The male person then entered the building and inflicted cut wounds to both Douglas and his wife. Upon hearing noise, American citizen 40-year-old Thomas Fiorille went to investigate and he too was attacked and received cut wounds also. A struggle ensued where both Douglas and Thomas fended off the culprit who reportedly received injuries to his head. The culprit then managed to make good his escape. Nothing was reported stolen.

This is the police report. It is formal, straightforward and informative. As it should be.

If you linger on certain phrases, like “attacked with a kitchen knife,” “inflicted cut wounds” and “a struggle ensued” and let your imagination float free you can begin to gather a sense of the terror our neighbors in The Cloisters endured on Thursday night.

Here’s another one: “Nothing was reported stolen.” I may be wrong but the sense I got from Doug, Gail and Tom was that this guy broke in to kill them. He screamed as much at them, Gail said.

Doug and Gail put up a terrific fight. Gail hit the guy with a bar stool.

Tom and Crystal, who live directly above Doug and Gail were the first to hear the commotion. It was around midnight and Tom was awake, sitting in his living room finishing up a smoke. When he heard the crashes and screams he didn’t hesitate.

He ran downstairs and barreled his way into the condo. “Doug and Gail are like family to us,” he said yesterday after returning from Belize City, where they all went to have their wounds and injuries double-checked.

Tom tore into the guy and the guy tore into Tom.

By this time I was wake and had figured out where the noise was coming from. I called 911. Crystal did the same. (I called a second time what seemed like ages later but was probably only 10 minutes. “Send an ambulance, too. These people will die if you don’t hurry!” The dispatcher was calm and professional but I wanted her to reflect the same urgency we felt. I feel bad for that now.)

As I set my gaze on Doug’s veranda, a big guy in a red shirt and jeans leaped over the railing and sprinted south. When I got downstairs, another neighbor, Randy, was tending to Doug and Gail. I could hear Gail crying in pain and Doug moaning and I could see blood-smeared walls.

“You don’t want to go in there,” Randy said calmly. “It is a crime scene now.”

Tom, bleeding from a deep chest wound and two stabs, was walking around outside, in shock. I tried to get him to sit down so the blood wouldn’t pump so quickly but he just couldn’t.  He saved their lives, I have no doubt of that.

The police arrived by 12:20 a.m. and quickly made arrangements for the Polyclinic to open and called in enough medical staff to work on all three at the same time.

I met Doug at his door and walked out with him, trying to think of something meaningful to say and failing miserably.

He paused, with a bloody towel on his head, smiled weakly and said “Ah, I’ve been in worse bar fights.”

The first few days after we moved into The Cloisters, Doug came over and gave us a fatherly lecture on safety. He told us of the recent break-ins. He even gave us some rods that would prevent the sliding glass doors from opening more than a few inches.

He and Gail are such warm and caring people. This just made no sense at all.

As Crystal prepared to drive them all to the Polyclinic, Gail tried to ignore her own pain as she organized care for the dogs and secured their condo. Randy helped take charge of that.

A police team returned at around 3 a.m. and took pictures and made notes of the crime scene. Little did I know they already had a solid description of the guy and a suspect in mind.

Friday morning, Randy arranged for two people to come in and clean up the condo. One of the first things they found was the tip of a finger, which they placed in a plastic bag.

They called the police who asked “Did you find another one?”

And they did.

I’ve heard of stupid criminals leaving fingerprints behind but this was at a whole new level.

I began to understand what Tom meant when he said “That guy got the worst of it.”

The police had the attacker locked up by morning.

He’s apparently well-known in the Boca Del Rio area, for his thuggery and a scar that runs down the center of his chest. Now he is short two fingers. He won’t be hard to spot next time.

Friday afternoon Tom and Crystal, Doug and Gail all returned from Belize City where they received the extra scrutiny for their injuries. A small group of us were waiting to greet them. They were exhausted but in good spirits. And like Tom had said, they seemed like a family. Rose made vegetable soup and made sure they all had enough for their first night home. One way that we can offer comfort.

I don’t know how this will ultimately affect our neighbors. They all strike me as resilient people who won’t soon forget this nightmare but will be able to move on at some point. At least that is my hope.

Doug and Gail, Tom and Crystal all bought into the dream that is Belize, much as we have done.

Not a fairy tale Paradise, but a really nice place to live with its own set of challenges.

The only people who hold illusions about life on Ambergris Caye are the tourists who check into a resort for a week, spend their time fishing, snorkeling and drinking and then head home with a hangover and sunburn proclaiming the island beautiful, its people the friendliest on earth, and its rum the best in the world.

And they are not wrong. But that is not real island life.

We have a beautiful life and we are surrounded by good and caring people, both natives and ex-pats. We have fresh and healthy food and plenty of inexpensive beer and rum. And yes, we have crime, we have drugs, we have poverty, we have fraud and corruption, we have trash, we have all the challenges you will find in any other  town in the world.

It is just that we can sometimes look out the window past the palm trees and gaze upon the bluest and greenest body of water you have ever seen and forget about it all. And we can gather at any time of day with friends and share a story or two, swap island survival tips and simply enjoy the unhurried companionship an island affords.

We live a far simpler life by choice and we easily do without many things that are deemed necessities back home.

It can be joyful. It can be a struggle. But this is where we have made our stand.

This is the place we have chosen to call home.

This morning at 3 a.m. I awoke and walked to the open veranda door. Outside a newly hired security guard stood vigil, a pair of  handcuffs hanging from his belt twinkled in the moonlight.

I exhaled.

And prayed that the healing has begun for our neighbors.

19 thoughts on “A night of terror and violence but Paradise isn’t lost

    Tracey said:
    September 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Oh no. I am so saddened and shocked to hear this! Thank goodness for neighbors and friends like all of you. Tracey


    Tammy said:
    September 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for filling in the blanks. You know how much I love your posts but this one was so hard to read. Sending hugs to you, Rose and all my peeps at the Cloisters.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      September 13, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks Tammy. It will be a safer place when you return.


    Jan B. said:
    September 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Bob, I have been following this story and wondering about the motive of breaking in knowing someone is awake to hear them enter. Was this guy on drugs or something? Did he have a reason to want to hurt them? This is very upsetting to me even though I do not know the folks. I truly hope they heal quickly, mentally as well as physically. They are very fortunate to have great neighbors.


    Karen Kelly said:
    September 13, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I have no words other than I am so grateful that you and Rose are O.K.


    Ruthie said:
    September 13, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    I have both goosebumps and tears. Such a way with words you have.


    Jamie & Rodney Cozby said:
    September 14, 2014 at 3:04 am

    Robert, you don’t know me, but we are planning our move to SP early next year after our businesses and home sells. In no way will we let this deter us from realizing a dream that we have had for 6 years now. You are so correct in your description of the life that we have grown to love in SP, and you are correct that EVERYWHERE we live, whether it be a city in the states or our little piece of heaven on the Caribbean Sea, that they ALL have their problems. I am just so thankful that Doug and Gail are OK and will heal with time. I pray that the police will lock this thug up forever. Prayers and hugs to everyone involved.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      September 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

      I am so glad to read this. It is deeply personal when violence occurs to people you know and care about but we must say,if only to ourselves, “this is not the Belize we know.” The good people here on this island stand in overwhelming numbers to the bad. As you note, is the situation most anywhere in the world. But as is the truth anywhere, the good can not stand by silently. This is a beautiful island and a beautiful country and nobody will ever take that away from San Pedranos, Belizeans and ex-pats.


    Tapestry Communications said:
    September 14, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Paradise lost…at least a little bit…at least for a little while. Is there true Paradise to be found anywhere in the world anymore?


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      September 14, 2014 at 10:04 am

      A question that could be discussed for years to come! For me, Paradise is to be found internally — a combination of peace, acceptance, gratitude, good works, kindness, objectivity, balance … oh, gosh, and probably a few more things. It starts with recognizing the world as it really is then finding a way to live within it that brings a measure of peace and happiness to self and those around you. Conflict exists in my version of Paradise but it does not define it. Postcards portray Ambergris Caye as a beautiful Paradise but the reality is grittier, more complex and ultimately more satisfying.

      I think I better stop now. i’m starting to pretend like I really have answers to life and the truth is I’m as mystified about life now as I was when I was yanked from my mother’s womb.

      But I love the question!


      kristina nadreau said:
      September 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Aruba is safe and comfortable. Expensive. There are several other places in the Western Hemisphere. Panama and parts of Quintana Roo. Our difficulty in Belize, is not only in crimes committed, it is in enforcement and successful prosecution. Thugs intimidate witnesses and walk. The clearance rate is under 20 %. There is a Ministry who has had 4 Hilux pick ups stolen in the last year. Lynn Nichiprovich was murdered in her home in Consejp Shores a year ago. No leads. missing personal property. etc.


    Susan said:
    September 14, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I was so saddened to read about this in the paper, and was worried for you and Rose as I remember you had just moved to those units. I am very thankful no lives were lost and that the thug was caught. Like Jan B. I too was wondering why? What reason could this guy possibly have to harm the people? Randy and I were just there last month on a scouting expedition to see about moving to Ambergris Caye when we retire and like so many tourists fell in love with the island. BUT we also took note of the Bloods graffiti, the poverty, the trash and the drug problem or potential drug problem that is there. Even with all of this we’ve decided that living there will be worth it. There are crimes like this many times over in Philly and the surrounding towns daily. No where in this world is there perfect harmony 24/7/365. This event will not deter us, it will only make us more vigilant and use our common sense and street smarts while living there. Maybe a few more self defense classes too won’t hurt. Glad everyone is better and I pray with time all wounds will heal.


    Rodney & Jamie Cozby said:
    September 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Robert, I am sorry I meant to ask in my previous reply, is it legal to carry a weapon(other then a machete) in San Pedro? Here in Texas we have what is known as the “Castle” Law, where it is perfectly lawful to shoot a person or whatever it takes to protect yourself or your loved ones IF they come inside your home to do harm to you or steal your property.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      September 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      It is my understanding that gun ownership in Belize is possible but it is far more restrictive than in the U.S. You can not own an assault rifle for example. I really have no knowledge of Belize gun laws so I am hesitant to say more. I don’t know anyone who is licensed to possess a gun, or at least nobody talks about it. I’m sure the Belize government must have addressed the issue online somewhere.


    Susanne said:
    September 15, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Having been on the receiving end of a home invasion in Cayo in 09 I know the terror. Luckily I was not injured, merely robbed. I hope you all manage to deal with the anxiety, nightmares and all the rest that follow in the process of healing. I was pro-active in taking security measures, if belated, and I feel safe again.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      September 15, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Susanne. Events like these seem to bring into focus so many steps we should be taking — like sliding glass door jams, deadbolts on doors, motion detector lights, a call list of neighbors. When I dialed 911, I had no idea if that was the correct procedure in Belize. Now I know. And may we never have to call again.


    lifeagain said:
    September 15, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Having a dog is always a good thing and a good size one at that……if you travel get a dog you can share with the care and upkeep your next door neighbor…..


    […] The bad stuff can find you too. We’ve experienced that recently. But it will never win out as long as we seek out and celebrate the best of who we are “together for Belize.” […]


    This is Belize: A murder in Paradise « Bound for Belize said:
    February 18, 2016 at 11:23 am

    […] than one year ago, another neighboring expat couple was brutally attacked in their condo by a young man who had long been regarded as violent and unstable by the community. My neighbors […]


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