A former Aspen couple are reeling from the loss of their Belize house and crocodile sanctuary, which were burnt to the ground Sunday morning by an angry mob of villagers.
Sunday's rampage was reportedly instigated by approximately 100 indigenous Mayans, who stormed the property of Cherie and Vincent Rose while they were away. Since the torching, the couple have moved from their home in Punta Gorda, located on the Caribbean coast off southeastern Belize, to an island in the northeastern region of the Central American country.
“We're still trying to come out of shock,” said Vincent Rose, 49, in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding he and his wife feel “80 percent safe.”
The Rose couple have deep Aspen ties. They wedded on the top of Aspen Mountain in 2002 before moving to Belize in 2004. Cherie Rose, 44, once taught snowboarding at Buttermilk. Vincent Rose spent his summers in Aspen starting in 1980, before moving here full time in the 1990s. A general contractor, he ran Bear Construction and remodeled the late John Denver's home.
After Denver died in a plane crash in October 1997, the singer-songwriter's son gave Vincent Rose one of Denver's guitars. It was destroyed by the blaze.
“Stuff like that, you can't replace,” Vincent Rose said.
He said the couple have lost nearly all of their possessions.
The mob — which hailed from a settlement about 10 miles away — torched the property because they believed two missing children were captives at the Rose couple's home, which sits next to their nonprofit American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES). Some news outlets reported the mob, acting on the advice of a psychic, believed the children had been fed to the crocodiles. The mob apparently became infuriated because police were not responsive to their demands that they search the Rose home for the children, 7newsbelize.com reported.
“They have their own superstitions,” deputy police commissioner James Magdaleno told CNN about the Mayans. “Because of their beliefs, they decided to take the law into their own hands.”
The psychic was arrested and charged with “pretends to tell fortune,” but there have been no arson arrests, according to 7newsbelize.com.
Rose said he has no idea of the whereabouts of the two children — a 9-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister — who have been missing since Aug. 7. Rose said he just recently became aware of their disappearance.
At the time of the invasion, the Rose couple were in San Pedro rescuing crocodiles off the island of Ambergris Caye, the husband said.
“Thank God, we were not there,” he said. “We would have been killed.”
Rose said the mob, armed with machetes and firearms, “broke into the house and torched the place, and there were no children to be found. We're all for the safe return of these children, just as much as anybody else.”
Rose said he knows of at least one crocodile that died from the fire. ACES, which sits on 36 acres, had been home to 17 crocodiles. Vincent Rose said he visited the sanctuary Monday, escorted by soldiers and police.
“I have not been able to assess if any of the crocodiles were shot, but when I did go down there, there weren't any floating,” he said.
A river flows through the sanctuary, and the crocodiles feed on a diet of shrimp, fish and crabs, Rose said. But that's not enough to sustain their diet; he's hoping some of his friends, who are nearby butchers, will feed them meat scraps.
After Rose visited the sanctuary, he was taken to the police station where he was interviewed for about three hours, he said. A mob waited outside the police station, he said.
“When I left, they had me run out of the back door,” he said. “Then all of the sudden the officers had me run back in the police compound because of a mob. We had to regroup, and the officers and soldiers finally raced me to the airport and there was an airplane waiting for me.”
Rose said he and his wife, a biologist, started ACES shortly after they moved to Belize.
“When we moved there and saw the devastation of all the endangered species being hunted and killed without any proper permit, we decided we needed to do something,” he said.
The couple got along well with the natives, Vincent Rose noted.
“We donated police equipment to the police office, we donated to the hospital and schools,” he said.
Rose noted that he plans to take legal action.
“I'm going to get a lawyer and sue the Mayan village that's responsible for destroying our lives and our not-for-profit crocodile sanctuary,” he said.
The couple don't plan to leave Belize, either.
“We're not going to get bullied out of town by a group of uncivilized people,” he said. “There's still law that exists in all countries and we're just not going to give up on what we've built and created. We're going to go to a different part of the country where there's more support and it's a safe area.”
Neither the house nor sanctuary were insured.
Accounts have been set up to help the Rose couple and the sanctuary. One, set up by the Belize Economic & Ecological Development Fund, takes Paypal donations through the e-mail address email@example.com. Wire transfers can be made to: Intermiary Bank, Bank of America New York, 300 Harmon Meadow BLVD, Seacaucus N.J. 07094 USA, Swift address — BOFAUS3N, ABA -026009593 to credit, Beneficiary Bank, BIC BBLBZBZ,account #6550-8-26053 of Belize Bank Limited, for final credit to account # 630-1-1-10130 of Vince & Cherie Rose Fire Victims.